I am good and bad.

Perfectionism is something I have struggled with from a young age. Although I have worked long and hard to overcome the notion that I need to meet this unattainable version of myself, I still find my perfectionist nature difficult to shake.

My thinking tends to be very black and white – only one extreme, or another. This makes it difficult to find a middle ground when thinking about myself, others, and the world around me.

I’ve always strived to be a good person, and when I make a mistake, or do something construed as bad, it bothers me immensely because it challenges my self-perception.

Yesterday in therapy, my counsellor did an interesting exercise with me. She drew two circles on a piece of paper. In the left circle we wrote all the things that correspond with my idea of “good”, such as eating healthy, exercising, getting good grades, and being kind to other people. The circle on the right, we filled with the opposites, or “bad” things, like eating junk food, lying in bed all day, procrastinating, and snapping at my loved ones.

I don’t like to think of myself in relation to the bad things I wrote down, because then I feel like I am not a good person. I usually deny that the items in the right circle even exist because in my mind, acknowledging them means that I am a terrible person. When I do acknowledge them, it feels like they negate all my positive qualities, even though I exhibit my positive behaviours more often then these negative ones.

Next, my therapist drew a third circle on the paper, a large oval enclosing both the left and right circles. She wrote my name at the top, and said, this is you. Sometimes you are good, and sometimes you are bad, but it’s okay because you are a human, and we are all like this.

I had never really thought of myself as the big circle. In my mind, I was either the left circle, or the right – they were mutually exclusive. Learning to accept that I am a myriad of things that are constantly contradicting one another is a tough concept to grasp for me, but I am working on challenging my thoughts and coming to terms with these contradictions.

The next time I engage in a “bad” behaviour, I will remind myself that all humans, including myself, are not just good or bad, but both – and that is okay. I am not perfect, but I can learn to embrace all the things that make me who I am – the good and the bad.

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Success vs. Failure

What exactly determines if someone succeeds or fails? I was thinking about this a lot when I dropped out of my program at school. The perfectionist within me was trying to fight its way into my thoughts: “You couldn’t finish the semester. You failed.”

But then I thought about how the semester had actually panned out. I realized that even though I had not completed the arbitrary amount of assignments and testing, within the pre-ordained time frame constructed by the educational institution, that I had still gained valuable knowledge.

I learned how to carry out range of motion exercises, and with that skill, I am healing and strengthening my previously injured shoulder. Even though I have not “achieved” the title of a physiotherapy assistant, no one can take this learned skill away from me – and that, I think, is a success in itself.

I think that we let society colour our views of what is successful or not. The criteria for what constitutes success is externally determined.

You got fired? Failure.

Got lower than 50% on a test? Failure.

Your partner dumped you? Failure.

The whole way it’s set up negates any actual benefit that was gained by these so called “failures” and doesn’t really look at how these “failures” could actually be a form of letting something go to make room for something better.

What I have been striving to do is really examine what success and failure mean to me, thus switching it to an internal and personal focus, rather than what society labels as successful. For example, today I got out of bed, showered, made a healthy breakfast, and then felt so tired after all of that so returned back to bed. I had planned to go for a walk, practice yoga, and do laundry as well, but I don’t see not completing those tasks as a failure. Instead, I see that I listened to my body and was intuitive enough to realize that my body needs more rest – and that my friends, is my definition of success.