Driven to failure? Four simple strategies.

You might remember a blog from Associate Prof and wellbeing champion Ekant Veer last year which  talked about how we have created a society that is so afraid of failing that some people avoid stretching themselves at all – well worth a read.

Here he talks about another group of people – those who are so committed to achievement that they end up failing. Could you be a part of this group? Need some simple strategies? Read on.

There’s a very fine line between those that are overachievers and those that are crippled by the weight of expectation. It may be the expectations they heap on themselves or the expectations of their whānau – whatever the source of the expectation the outcome is often the same. You either excel in your field or you are driven to failure. 

In my nearly 40 years I’ve run that fine balance. I’m constantly trying to do more and achieve more. Fortunately, I’m doing ok right now. That’s not always been the case. The stress and pressure I heap on myself to live up to my expectations has torn me apart in the past and it probably will again in the future. If you’re like me then you will likely need some simple strategies to make sure you’re running that fine line in a healthy way.

So, here goes:

  • Perspective is important. In your mind anything less than 100% is a failure. There are absolutely situations where this is true. My brother is a very successful surgeon. When he’s picking around inside a child’s skull cavity he needs to be 100% perfect or a kid dies. When you’re writing an assignment or getting the results back from your latest test keep things in perspective. Is this one of those times where a great (but not perfect) mark is good enough? To be honest, this probably sounds like one my hardest suggestions, but the others aren’t that much easier (sorry!).This doesn’t mean you’re compromising your values – it means you can still be academically great without getting a perfect grade.
  • Focus on your successes, not just your failures. Driven people are results oriented. That means failures are to be eliminated and rectified. That usually requires a lot of mental rumination and examination. That’s fine, if it’s done in a healthy way. Staying up at night thinking what you could have done better and then hating yourself for making a ‘stupid’ mistake is not healthy. Give your successes equal mental time and effort that you give to your failures.This doesn’t make you a narcissist or egotist, it makes you balanced – I’m definitely on Team Thanos on this one and you should be, too.
  • Take time off. Yeah, another hard one for driven people. I’m a workaholic and get a kick out of working long hours BUT I also know that I can’t sustain that pace. Driven people tend not to slow down and easily find work/life balance – they tend to be dedicated and focused up until they hit a brick wall and their lives crumble. We’re all or nothing when it comes to our work. We’ve convinced ourselves that time off is slacking and would make our work worse. Even if we do walk away from our work our mind is still there, trying to figure things out. Trust me, this isn’t healthy. I’ve been there and the recovery takes months – maybe years once you’ve hit rock bottom from burnout.It’s far better to take at least one day, if not two days a week to not only do no work but to do something that genuinely refreshes you. If that’s running, do it – if it’s binge watching Netflix, that’s fine. As long as you are happy and recharging then I don’t care. You are your own expert when it comes to your wellbeing.Taking time off doesn’t mean you’re not working. It means you’re preparing yourself for far better work when you’re back. Take micro-breaks during the day and one full day a week to chill. You’ll be far more productive the week after!
  • Talk. I don’t mean ‘OMG, I’m so stressed!!!’ I mean genuinely talk with someone whom you trust. Someone who understands you and can listen and guide you. If you don’t have someone like that then enrol in the health centre and meet one of the awesome counsellors there asap. Prevention is always better than cure when you fall on the wrong side of the line. Don’t hide away from your pressure crushing you. Develop strategies to ensure you stay on the healthy side of the line. There are experts who can do this with you, so use them!

       You could talk to someone at  Student Care> or contact UC Health>

I see way too many talented young people who have way more potential than I ever had just capitulate. All work and no play doesn’t make you a dull person – it makes you a psychological wreck. Just working doesn’t make you a better worker. We’ve created a society that glorifies hard work at the expense of self-care.

I’ve just got back from a conference in Portugal and I have no doubt there are people looking at my social media feed thinking I’m chilling out overseas not doing any work. That’s fine – let them feel that way. I’m happy to show them my CV to prove I’m still productive AND I can enjoy a Port wine tasting or five.

Don’t shy away from taking time for yourself and then kicking ass when you’re back to study. Don’t drive yourself so hard that you end up crushing yourself.  

Ekant Veer – Associate Professor, wellbeing champion

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