The tyranny of excellence

I don’t know how many of you are able to make a living out of your writing. However, I don’t. Actually in order to make a living I work in a company which implements Information Technology related projects to several customers. I am the analyst, the developer, the project manager etc in every project I am involved in. Is this a good practice you might ask? If I have to be honest the answer is definitely no. But this is not the subject of this post.

Well, this last month of my life turned out as a living hell to me. And let me explain. 

I was assigned to implement a project which was of really high standards. A complicated algorithm which everybody else seemed they were trying to avoid in every possible means. But, no, not me.

I thought that no matter how complicated something is, I could just try to break it down in smaller pieces and reduce the level of complexity. And that is what I did. I had completed almost 85% of the project and it was working as expected. There was only this 15% missing and the project would be successfully completed and delivered to the customer.

Sometimes you just are not enough

I was working on this for more than two months. Constantly trying to squeeze my brain, break the big problem to smaller ones, thinking of ways to overcome each one of them and produce a solution. I was really happy about it and my superiors were happy with the results. 

Until one day I just could continue working in the same rhythm. I might have gotten tired, I might also have had other personal problems that were just distracting me from the project. I also had some health issues that were considered as more important, since they were.

The struggle with myself

The thing is that I did not want to admit that I was going through something like this, that I was unable to produce results. I wanted to convince myself that I could continue working as I did for so long. I got extremely stressed. I could not think of anything clear and make a good decision. Even when talking with others about the project I had a feeling that there was a black sheet in front of me and I could not hear, see or process anything that was discussed. 

I started having those terrible headaches and in order to make it through the day I had to take 4 painkillers a day. My heart was beating like I was constantly running. At night I could not fall asleep. These last few weeks the maximum night sleep I could get was 2 hours. And even within these 2 hours I would jump out of bed due to dreams or thoughts related to this 15% of the project that was missing.

I was longing for the weekend to come when I would finally find some time away from everything. I thought that I would use this time in order to relax and take my mind out of it.

But, I didn’t. Instead of that, I spent those two days fighting with myself because I was not good enough. No matter how much help I might have been provided I just couldn’t finish the project I had started. My head was ready to explode and my nerves were stressed to their limits. I was crying every time my thoughts went there, which was almost all the time. I even called my director on Sunday afternoon to submit my resignation, just because I could wait until Monday morning.

I was advised to take some days off just to relax and take care of myself. This is what I am still doing until I get my final decision.

Now that I think about all these I had to go through, I realize that my expectations for the excellent performance of myself were the ones that actually caused my problem.

Why did I have to put myself into this?

And ok since I did, when I realized that I could not proceed anymore why didn’t I want to admit that I just couldn’t?

Because I was afraid to admit that I was not enough.

Sometimes we just are not enough, and you know what? I think it is OK!

We should not struggle and make ourselves suffer. Our body sends us a message and we should be able to hear it. When we try to ignore it we make it even harder to deal with.

We are humans. Most of us are mediocre. And that is also OK. Thinking that we must be excellent in whatever we are working on could be just an illusion. Could be just a way to make us suffer because we realize that we are not excellent at all.

Do you try to perform excellently in whatever you work on? How often do you make it?

How do you react when you realize that you cannot make it as good as you thought you could?

2 thoughts on “The tyranny of excellence

  1. It is very difficult to admit or even spot our own vulnerabilities sometimes. And when we do, our mental health (and physical health) can really suffer. So many of us don’t always know how to ask for help — and I am glad to read that you are taking some time for yourself and you have a boss that encouraged that. I think when we are unexpectedly faced with our limitations, especially if it isn’t really a lack of knowledge or expertise but rather outside factors like health or other personal issues, it can be a shock to us how we respond. All I can say is that everything we go through teaches us something new, we might not like it (and that is okay) but we can always grow from it. I wish you well in whatever your next steps are.

    • Thank you Molly for reading me and giving me back such a great input. The first and always hardest step of all is to identify and to admit that you have a problem and reach out for help, whatever that help is for each one of us. Definately agree that everything in this life is a lesson. Take care of yourself and those you love.

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