My entire life I have been a pleaser.
My self worth has constantly been gauged–for good and for bad–in the way others have seen me and in how well I could perform in school and other activities.
Forget intrinsic motivation–when it came to school, while I like learning, I became incredibly fixed on the extrinsic reward system of grades…I learned quickly that grades could surprise people–could impress them–could get them to notice me.
For a variety of reasons, I was always a kid who was so thirsty to be noticed. I needed someone to say, “Look at her–she is special!” It sounds vain and petty to write down now…and yet, it is, to this day, something that I struggle with.
You see, at some point, and for some reason, my value became tied to a grade. If I did not receive an “A,” I perceived myself as a failure. It was easier to quit something that to do something badly.
School was a place where, throughout my life, special teachers believed in me and nurtured me, and essentially threw me a “lifeline” and let me know that I was worthy of feeling cared for and loved (yes, I do believe that a few of these teachers truly did love me in that special teacher-student way). School was always my safe place…the place where I could get away and become who I was really meant to be.
It was the place where I could shine…and so I had to shine. I was a straight A student, graduated Salutatorian of my high school class, and Summa Cum Laude (GPA 4.0) with my Bachelor’s degree. Here I am, working on a second degree and, to this day, I have never received a B in college. Would it be good for me? Probably…but can I let it happen? …NOPE.
Unsurprisingly, this did not make me popular with my peers. It was frustrating to be called an “overachiever” and many other less flattering names…
I can sit back now and recognize that my perfectionism and my need to overachieve do not only exist in a school environment. No…unfortunately, these are attributes that I carry around with me.
What does this mean?
It means that I have, and still do, care entirely too much what other people think. I try desperately hard to please my boss, my college teachers, my family, and a whole host of random strangers…because, if I can get them to like me, then surely I must be worth something.
It is a slap in the face if someone doesn’t like me. It is devastating if I screw up…especially if I get “caught.” Somewhere, in my brain, I convinced myself long ago that it is never, ever okay to mess up.
This mentality that I have injected into my everyday life has become an exhausting burden. I am tired of letting other people determine my worth. I am tired of caring too much what other people think of me. I am tired of projecting my fears and insecurities into situations (let’s say that a friend does not call me back…my immediate reaction? “Oh, no! I must have done something wrong!”)
I am tired of giving and giving to people, in the hope that they notice that I am worthy of friendship and love, only to get little in return. (But I am so thankful for the newer group of friends that I DO have, who have shown me that they love me for ME).
As I have begun to work through the tangled mess that is my perfectionism and over-achievement, I have realized that these two attributes come out of a deeply seated fear–planted long ago–of abandonment.
Yes, I truly believe–deeply– (whether I consciously recognize it at the time or not) that if I make a mistake, somebody I care about will just be done with me.
Does this always happen? No…
But has it? Yes…and more times than should be “okay.”
I am being pushed to recognize that, when other people leave, it is their choice–their problem. And yes, while I can see that in some of my own experiences, the very sensitive person inside feels like they made a choice that did not involve me…or, worse yet, they made a specific choice to get away from me (and this naturally leads to the question…”what is wrong with me?!”).
This is a hard boundary to accept.
So, I say all of this to realize (because writing helps me think!) that I am an overachiever and a perfectionist. I am these two things because I want to please people and I want them to see my worth…but this worth is contingent on their feelings for me, and not secure in my own head and heart.
I am afraid to be abandoned and to be alone. And I will continue to be afraid of these things until I can learn to find my own worth–my own value, just for being me.
I am making strides, but I am still plagued by doubts and insecurities. This will be the next focus of my journey…learning to love *me*.