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Gold Star

A few weeks ago, I had my annual review at work. While I usually consider blogging about work to be verboten, something happened that reflects so clearly that 2012 Goal Number Eight will continue to be a project for me. On my review form, I had written something like, “I often struggle with working hard on something, and not getting a gold star.” And that’s true! I do struggle with that! When I work hard on something, I want someone to notice!

But my boss read something slightly different. He mentioned that my comment was one of the most truthful things he’d ever heard from me, and as he went on, I realized that he’d read something even more deeply honest than I’d meant. (He’s one of those brilliant people who can recognize things, and then find a way to say them to you that doesn’t piss you off, or totally paralyze you. Amazing superpower, that.) What he read, I think, was something more along these lines:

“I cannot tolerate doing less than gold-star-worthy work. And I have a hard time when people with whom I work do not do gold-star-worthy work.”


That’s… yep. That’s pretty darn true.

It’s not that I’m necessarily afraid of failure. While I obviously don’t yearn for failure, I have no problem acknowledging my failures when they happen. But mediocrity? That’s a different story. In fact, a few months ago, I passed something that was displaying this quote, and felt so strongly about it that I typed it into my iPhone notes:

 I never thought of being an over-achiever as a potential detriment, but I guess it is possible that — like anything else, when done obsessively — it might just be the thing that holds me back. I still haven’t decided how I feel about this hypothesis. It flies in the face of most of what I’ve striven for my entire life. But I do find it challenging in a way that many hard truths tend to be. I’ve been thinking about it for a while. I don’t know. What do you think?


{ 12 comments… add one }
  • Jamie December 9, 2012 at 11:43 am

    I believe that there are times when tasks just need to be DONE. Perhaps not perfectly, but just completed. There are other times when it needs to be as perfect *as possible*, note, this is different than PERFECT. I have often thanked the powers that be that I am not a perfectionist, but I do enjoy completing things. I see other folks make themselves crazy trying to be perfect and they beat themselves up about it and often do not complete a task because they feel it cannot be done perfectly Life is too short for perfection, I think. We are all perfect, and as long as we are honest with ourselves (and each other really), that should be ok.

    • abbersnail December 9, 2012 at 10:09 pm

      I totally hear you. I don’t think I’m a perfectionist — I’m too much of an “artist type” for that — but I tend to see no reason not to always put forth my best effort. I think it might be time to figure out what can just “get done,” without putting so much into it.

  • Ava December 9, 2012 at 7:27 pm

    I have the same problem! It’s not necessarily a quest for ‘perfection’ per se, but rather a sense that a job has been done properly, and is of high quality. I think there’s a difference there. But I’m certainly struggling with it myself. In fact, you’ve just inspired a response blog post of my own, so that I don’t hijack this thread: http://thisbutlerdidit.wordpress.com/2012/12/09/ruminations-on-gold-stars/ ‎In any case, as you say, hard truths are challenging, but in the end, important. So thanks, I guess, for passing your hard truth along?

    • abbersnail December 9, 2012 at 10:10 pm

      Thanks so much for the nice comment and the trackback, Ava! And exactly this. I am not trying to be perfect, as I think the idea of perfection is ludicrous. I just always want something to be spectacular. Not perfect, but unbelievably amazing. Does that make any sense?

  • sizzle December 10, 2012 at 8:16 am

    As an over-achiever myself, I’ve been trying to not strive for every single thing to be perfect. Because it is exhausting. Because sometimes things can be good enough when not over the top. Because my energy is better spent on other things. But it’s not easy to let it go! I doubt you will ever strive for mediocrity but maybe you’ll learn to be ok with not everything being just right all the time? It’s liberating and scary, I tell ya. 🙂

    • abbersnail December 10, 2012 at 5:41 pm

      Yeah, it’s funny. I think that I’m pretty good about “getting ‘er done” when necessary. Usually when it pertains to my own needs or happiness, I take the fastest road to necessity. But when it is work related, I go overboard, I think.

  • NGS December 10, 2012 at 10:20 am

    My husband’s advisor in grad school used to say “don’t let perfectionism get in the way of the good” when talking about finishing his dissertation. He was really hesitant to just submit it because it wasn’t perfect, but she was telling him that he would never think it was perfect, but he had to finish to move on with his life. Good luck!!

    • abbersnail December 10, 2012 at 5:42 pm

      You know, it is hilarious that you say this. I remember applying for a huge fellowship in undergrad, and I just put in the least amount of effort necessary. And then, I won it! I think that’s the lesson here: sometimes, good enough REALLY IS good enough!

  • Alison Presley December 10, 2012 at 12:56 pm

    I have this belief that school failed us in a way. It was so focused on achieving letter grades and gold stars and test scores, that as adults when all of that is stripped away, we feel a little lost.

    You’re definitely NOT the only person who struggles with this! Like you, I’m trying to just do a great job and let the satisfaction of that alone be enough.

    Easier said than done, though.

  • Lauren | Seventeenth & Irving December 12, 2012 at 1:00 pm

    Just catching up on blog reading, and this resonated so deeply with me. I think this might be why you and I get along so well! In a “sure the paper could just be pasted back down but it would be perfect if I could just rip it down and start from scratch” kind of way.

    Lately, I catch myself not even taking time to celebrate the successes because I’m already thinking about the next super-star project or goal I can meet. I think my 12/12/12 12:12 wish will be to find a little peace with that. To just be happy with “ok” sometimes and not let it hinder my happiness.

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