Celebrating Small Successes

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By: Angelica Fei Li For those of you who don’t know me:

Yes, I am wearing scrubs…

For those of you who do know me:

Yes! I am eating frozen yogurt.

For those of you who really know me:

YESSS! You are SEEING this right. I am ACTUALLY enjoying a FULL cup of yogurt with TOPPINGS and SAVORING all its GUMMY/SUGARY/POPPING yumminess.

And for those of you who are wondering what the BIG occasion is for me to be eating 8 oz of sugar:

I PASSED MY NURSING ASSISTANT CERTIFICATION EXAM AND AM NOW A CERTIFIED HEALTHCARE PROFESSIONAL. WOOHOO!

Okay, okay.  I know what you’re probably thinking…

  1. “This girl needs to CALM DOWN”
  2. “That’s really awesome,” *sarcastic tone* “but NO ONE cares.”
  3. “Hmphff, nurse aid is, legit, THE bottom of the healthcare chain. She’s making a big deal out of nothing.”
  4. “Alright, I guess it’s cool she’s “celebrating,” but like, I eat frozen yogurt all the time.  What kind of treat is that?”

Well, how did I do?

Did I guess right?

Was I able to read your mind?

If so, let me tell you why, for the first time in my life, I’m choosing to celebrate my small successes–and try to convince you to celebrate your own.

A Perfectionist’s Mind

A common, unhelpful thought pattern of perfectionists is disqualifying the positives.  That is, “discounting the good things that have happened or that you have done for some reason or another” (https://psychologytools.com/unhelpful-thinking-styles-free-en-us.pdf).

You see, it is extremely easy for a perfectionist to fall into this trap of discrediting themselves for small things because of their grandiose nature.  I mean, come on, their title says it all…PERFECTIONISTS, though obsessively detail oriented, do not think in small terms.  Their whole self-endowed “life purpose” is to strive toward and achieve a momentous (often unattainable/unrealistic) goal.  // i.e. to be successful, to be the most successful, to be the wealthiest, to be a genius, to be the most liked person on earth, to be known by all as kind, to be the a generous philanthropist, to be the most adventurous, to be the most attractive. to be perfect in some area or all areas of their life //  The goals I listed, though, are more so character traits that must be quantified by actions and physical concrete achievements.  And thus, perfectionists strive to prove themselves as the most (insert adjective here), by setting out to “win.”  Perfectionists believe that they have not arrived until they achieve the most respected position in their field.  They have not proven themselves until they have received the highest prestige or accolade.  Until then–but quite frankly, NEVER–they will not see all of the small steps leading up to earning that Ph.D./M.D./Nobel Prize/CEO promotion/$1 million salary meaningful.

My Mind

Okay, so thanks for bearing with me while I try to clear things up for you.  I know the last paragraph was very dense and abstract, so I’m going to use my own life now as a concrete example.

From a very young age, I found my identity in academics (more on this and placing self-worth in external things in another blog post).  It was something I excelled at and something I got true joy out of.  Okay, fast-forward to high school/college.  Everyone kept asking me, “So what are you going to be? What’s your major?” And all I heard was, “How are you going to prove yourself? How are you going to make your family proud?”  What I said was, “I’m thinking of being a physician.” And what I said to myself was, “I have to go to medical school.”

Character trait being obsessed over: intelligent

Big goal to prove character trait: medical school –> physician

Motivations to prove character trait: fear, failure, low self-esteem, need for validation, not knowing who I truly am

Got it? It’s a lot to take in.  Basically, on my darkest of perfectionist days, I tell myself I’m not good enough.  And I will never be good enough unless I get into med school and become a physician and have “things” to my name.  Anything else, any other “small” accomplishments until then are just boxes to check off.

  1. Being valedictorian of my high school class
  2. Getting straight A’s in college
  3. Being a member of a research team studying memory and the brain
  4. Volunteering at three world renowned hospitals
  5. Being a University Scholar for the Class of 2018 (top 2% of the junior class when I was only technically a sophomore)
  6. Completing a 168 hour nursing assistant course at community college
  7. Creating a blog and posting really vulnerable content
  8. Writing songs on the piano
  9. Shadowing a physician during an 11 hour shift
  10. Passing nursing assistant certification exam on the first attempt
  11. Buying new running shoes and working out three times a week
  12. Just physically putting one foot into a gym that used to be intimidating

I don’t mean to write some of these things to brag.  I am writing them because I want to be 100% honest about how I’ve viewed my prior accomplishments.  All of these things before recovery meant (or would have meant) absolutely nothing to me.  I’ve taken so much for granted. Perfectionists expect so much of themselves and, what often times makes it worse is, they are able to meet their exceptionally demanding expectations.  But they blow it off as nothing because, again, their optimal performance is expected. Every. Single. Time.  Successes no longer exist when they are the norm.  Instead, failure is the unwelcome/feared occasion that is the motivation to continue operating under the view that “success is normal,” and therefore, positives are disqualified.

Filling in boxes to Living a Full Life

Promise, I’m almost finished! Thank you so, so much for reading this far.  I know I can be wordy, but let me tell you, I appreciate the time you’ve given me.

One of the most life-changing experiences in my recovery was seeing how empty my life was.  Sure.  I was filling boxes, but my life was not full.  That’s because looking toward the sky blinded me from the beauty down here on earth.  What I lacked was gratitude.  I admit it, my goals were selfish.  I wasn’t thinking of other people when I was thinking medical school.  I was thinking about how I can bolster my resume.  And that upset me greatly.  I was embarrassed by my ulterior motives and wanted desperately to remove myself from the situation.  I told myself that I didn’t deserve to be a physician if it was merely a selfish endeavor.  I would instead settle for physician assistant, but that, too, has robbed me of understanding and has shown me how extreme my mindset has manifested itself.  Removing yourself from external temptations does not show growth in character, just as running away from your fears does not make you brave.  The only way I’ve found to remedy selfishness and anxiety is gratitude for the small things, and so I’ve decided to celebrate the small successes.

  1. Waking up in the morning
  2. Breathing
  3. Being able to smile and laugh
  4. Having friends who accept all of my imperfections
  5. Walking on my own
  6. Having the money to buy frozen yogurt
  7. Making my grandma laugh
  8. Being able to make patients lives more comfortable
  9. Being able to afford an education and the teachers who believe in me
  10. The opportunities to fail or succeed
  11. Having my health
  12. Knowing that we were all created in our own, flawed ways for a reason
  13. Second chances
  14. Being alive

Reasons to Celebrate, Reasons to Serve

The question I’m beginning to ask is not, “what is there to celebrate,” but “why aren’t I celebrating?”  And the best way I’ve found to celebrate, is to serve others.  Once you find your reasons, I encourage you to share them with others.  Help them to see that there is always a reason to celebrate because really, what’s a party if it’s only you?

But if you’re feeling stuck, try the exercises that I did in this post.

  1. Reflect on the character trait you’re obsessed over, the big goal you’ve designated to prove the character trait, and your motivations for proving this character trait to yourself and others
  2. Qualify the positives by listing all of the things you achieved this week, no matter how small.  You’re writing straight, objective facts here.  No minimization or negative feelings. (Qualifying: I walked for 10 minutes today.   vs.  Disqualifying: I only walked for 10 minutes today but I should have ran for 20.)
  3. Write down what you are grateful for, what makes you happy, and what you look forward to
  4. Find ways to serve and celebrate with others; Enjoy your favorite food or activity; Create and share!

Alright, friends.  That’s it for this blog post.  I hope it helped convince you to celebrate your small successes, as well as continue to debunk any misconceptions of perfectionism.  Feel free to share this post if you found it enlightening.  And if you feel like you need someone to talk to or still have questions because you think I was completely incoherent, by all means, PLEASE message me!

Until the next post, celebrate!

About the Author: My name is Angelica Fei Li, and I am a recovering perfectionist. In the past, my hobbies included scrutinizing my entire existence and trying to live up to unattainable standards; however, I’ve recently decided that perfection and I just aren’t meant to be. Join me as I strive to become more self-aware and redefine "imperfection" by exploring my insecurities and pushing past my comfort zone...publicly.