Updated: Oct 4, 2019
When you are a high achiever and expect the best from yourself – not to mention if others also have the same high expectations from you - it can be very stressful trying to live up to these expectations. Many of these expectations are unrealistic (like the student who insists they obtain 100% for every assignment, and is then disappointed when they get 98% instead), and when they are too high it makes them unachievable. When these unrealistic expectations are not achieved, some people can then feel like they are not good enough, or failures, or hopeless.
So who are we trying to prove ourselves to? Our peers? Our family? Our friends? Our lecturers? Our boss? Our co-workers? Or do we have a faulty belief that unless we achieve 100% at everything we are not successful? And why are their opinions so important?
You know, my mum asked me years ago “whose opinion is the most important?”. Naturally I answered “mine”, but many people don’t have the same mind-set, and they tend to put other people’s opinions over their own. And another question I ask is “why is their opinion so important to me and more important than my own?”. Don’t get me wrong, I value other people’s opinions, but they are just that – their opinions. It does not necessarily make them factual, realistic, or any more important than mine. As one of my colleagues says “opinions are like bottoms – everyone has one!”. So what I like to do is to take their opinions on board and consider the value or merits in their opinion (regardless of whether I don’t like what they are saying lol), because sometimes it’s important to put our own ego and pride aside and really think about what they are saying. Often after thinking about it, I will agree with it – but only after I have carefully thought over what they have said (like asking someone’s opinion on whether the blue or red colour suits me better, especially if I like both). Other times, I will thank them for their opinion, and still assertively make my own choice (and accept the consequences if need be).
All of this reminds me that nobody is perfect. We are all doing the best we can, with what we have got. And who said we have to be perfect anyway – then there is no room left for improvement! If we achieve everything at 100%, at some point there will be no more challenges to strive for because we would have accomplished everything ‘perfectly’. Now where’s the fun in that! Having a sense of accomplishment is wonderful, and contributes to our level of wellbeing, but if this accomplishment involves incredible amounts of stress and pressure (beyond the level of healthy wellbeing), then I question if it’s really worth it – and I think you should to. Another downside to keeping up this persona of perfection is that it sets expectations – that is, other people begin to expect that we will never make a mistake and that we always have all the answers. This is completely unrealistic, and places additional stress and pressure on us. Time to loosen up a little and just take it down a notch-or-two!
So the next time you think you have to do everything ‘perfectly’, please ask yourself “says who?”. Really stop and think about what you are trying to prove – or importantly, who you are trying to prove yourself to. Sure, many of us like to be perfectionists and give our best at all times, but we need to remember that we are still human, and everyone makes mistakes. I’m a strong believer of striving to be the best we can be, but I’m also realistic about what is actually achievable and what’s not. Sometimes it’s better to lower our expectations a tad (and have SMART goals), and then strive to meet them - this can be much healthier as they can be more achievable (and make us feel great when we achieve them!), but can also add to our confidence when we surpass those expectations!
About Dr Nadine Hamilton
As a leading authority on veterinary wellbeing, Dr Hamilton helps veterinary professionals get on top of stress and conflict to avoid burnout and suicide, and also works with practice managers and owners to increase wellbeing, productivity, and retention in the workplace. Additionally, she provide workshops to small and large groups within the private and corporate sectors, and speaks at conferences and symposiums both nationally and internationally.
Her book "Coping with Stress and Burnout as a Veterinarian - An Evidence-Based Solution to Increase Wellbeing" was released in March 2019 through Australian Academic Press, and is already making a positive impact within the profession - both here in Australia and internationally.
As an advocate for the veterinary profession, Dr Hamilton founded the charity "Love Your Pet Love Your Vet" and partnered with Royal Canin to reduce stigma in veterinary professionals seeking help, raising awareness within the community about the realities of working in the profession, and providing psychological and educational support to veterinary professionals.