Dancing in turmoil, transcendent after the storm: Revelations of a recovering perfectionist.
Are you a recovering perfectionist like me?
Throughout my life, I overworked myself to reach my goals. While this got me praise from others and exactly where I wanted to go, I eventually found myself as the personified definition of someone who is “burned-out” and a “failure”. First of all, I don’t believe any human or non-human species is a failure. Secondly, burn-out is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”. My first reaction to this definition is to critique it. The definition makes me feel like it puts the responsibility on the person to do something about their burn-out, wether to prevent it or manage it. The definition does not call out workplaces for establishing and normalizing systems that lead workers to get to this point. I read an Instagram post recently that rather experiencing burn-out, people are being exploited (in the fleeting cycle of story transitions I wasn’t able to catch who this post was by, apologies for not providing credit to the post author). The term burn-out is sometimes used by employees who are overworked and undervalued, when in reality, they are being exploited by the companies and non-profit organizations they work for. People in salaried positions working under these conditions are often being paid a non-living wage, demanded high-levels of perfectionism under a sense of urgency, and expected to work more than a 40-hour week if results in meeting hierarchal demands.
The self-objectification and self-perception of “burned-out” and “failure” eventually led me to develop a deep desire to change my career trajectory entirely. While I perceived this internal shift as failure, I saw it as an opportunity to accept all parts of myself, and be creative about the ways I want to sustain myself and spend my time doing things that bring me joy. It’s important to mention that these feelings also arose at the time of my Saturn return. This astrological event in each person’s life around the age of 29.5 usually leads them to make a major shift in their lives that pushes them further towards alignment with themselves.
I hope this piece of writing supports others who are going through a similar realization or transition, too.
During a sunny and sweaty bike tour on the second day of my trip to Athens, I learned about the marble columns that hold up the Parthenon. Not one column is the same in terms of shape and height. They also lack straight lines and right angles. But after thousands of years, conquests, and earthquakes, they continue to stand strong.
After returning home, a journal entry from the trip reminded me of this fact. Inevitably, the story in the journal entry resonates with me and where I am now. I start making connections of this analogy with transitions I have recently made in my professional life. The story also leads me to remember the 12-sided stone of Hatunrumiyoc in Cusco, Peru. I visited the site when I was backpacking in South America in February 2020, before major restrictions on travel and movement due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I can feel the cold, smooth stone on my palm again, and hear the locals telling me to stop because, unbeknownst to me at the time, touching the stone is forbidden. The 12-angled stone is centered among other stones with different shapes, and together and without mortar, they hold each other up and create a wall. People say that when there is an earthquake, the stones dance and then settle once it’s over.
Structures like the pillars of the Parthenon and the stones of Hatunrumiyoc have the capacity to withstand adversity while radiating beauty through their collective strength. They were crafted with delicacy and intentionality. Their presence is authentic, unapologetic, and everlasting despite moments that force them to shake from the ground up. The logic and care that went into their creation which may be perceived and described as imperfect are perfect. My personal commitment is to normalize, honor, and uplift these qualities within others and ourselves. My ask to the world is to do the same.