As a highly competitive person, I have long strived to not only succeed, but excel in all that I do. Grades mattered to me, and I worked hard to always achieve perfect scores in school. I took pride in my report cards and feedback. Grades still matter to me today, too. In my career, I bust my ass trying to get consistently high performance marks on my reviews. I try to learn as much as I can and improve in my life anyway, but competitiveness and perfection drive this to an extreme. I probably care too much about my work, but what matters most are my grades. That tangible feedback in writing and dollars that justifies my existence. When did I start believing my worth is based only on my performance? The amount of productivity I can achieve for a company? I am more than my salary, my degrees, or the results I get on some arbitrary scorecard.
On this topic, Anne Wilson Schaef writes:
“How subtly we are given the message that we are what we produce! Acceptance and approval were very important to us as children, and we could get them by ‘working our tails off.’ Unfortunately, no matter what we did or how well we did it, it never seemed to be enough. At least, it did not really take care of that longing inside that is sometimes so intense it hurts.
Getting rewards and recognition can take away the growing internal pain momentarily, but it always comes back. We can get our three-dollar award as children, or we can get impressive salaries and positions as adults, and somehow the emptiness inside just goes underground. It does not disappear.
The seeds of our workaholism and busyness were indeed sown early. We must, however, remember that anything that has been learned can be unlearned. We were not created to work ourselves to death. We have learned to work ourselves to death.”
There are downsides to being an A student. When life is a competition, you are at odds with everyone. I constantly strive for more, which means I’m never satisfied. I long for gold stars of approval from my family, friends, and spouse when I do kind things for them. I put in too much time and effort perfecting something when good enough would suffice. I care too much about outward indicators of success, and spend time on them instead of what matters most in my heart.
As my husband once pointed out, we live in a world largely populated with C students. The average. They put in just enough work to get by, and they don’t kill themselves for perfect grades or higher raises and promotions. They recognize that with those things comes more work and responsibility. It’s not fun trying to be perfect all the time, and there is more to life than just our work anyway.
We are part of this connected universe, at once vast and beautiful. We are part of nature, part of the feeling, living, breathing universe. We have options beyond just killing ourselves for arbitrary rewards. We can recognize what’s important to us, find work that we value and which values us in return, and go after our heart’s desires. We can live life for ourselves based on our own values. It’s not a competition for who has the best, most, whatever. Live life for you.