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Perfectionism is not Professionalism

There are jobs that are never done. Parenting, housekeeping, and laundry top that list. There’s always more to do no matter how well you do it. Sooner or later, we either find a way to be okay with this or we drive ourselves too hard and a little nuts.

There are jobs that can’t be done. These set ups occur personally by attempting to do the impossible. Single parenting is the easiest example. One parent (usually a mother) tries to be two parents. No matter how good a person is, she can’t be two people.

Professionally, we attempt to do the impossible in jobs that are guaranteed to chew us up and spit us out. These exist in both blue and white collar professions. One breaks your back and the other scrambles your brains. Both will break your spirit if you don’t find a way to stay sane in the midst of insane expectations and demands.

I have empathy for those who work too hard in any job. Some of us do too much out of necessity. It costs a lot (physically, mentally, and emotionally) to be working class poor and back breaking labor is generally not done by folks who have better options. Many of us (myself included for many years) do far too much for far too long simply because we believe we had no other choice. People can do incredible things with this mindset, but always at a high cost.

In the white collar world, I have empathy for folks who do good work throughout the healing and helping professions. Their jobs are often thankless, unsupported, and unending. If they worked 100 hours a week there would still be more to do and yet their heads will roll if the paperwork isn’t done on time.

Unhealthy workplaces are very much like unhealthy families. We play out the same conflicts at work that we did at home. We try to make miserable people happy. We try to be on top of absolutely everything. We intuit and anticipate and provide what’s needed before it’s asked for. We do more and more with less and less. We drive ourselves relentlessly. We are likely to maintain this until we cannot. There’s a point beyond burnout in which physically, mentally, emotionally…we break down and are forced to change.

We learn how to stand our ground despite the storms (bosses, back stabbing coworkers, office gossip and drama) that rage around us. We learn to be assertive, concise, and clear. We set limits and boundaries only after we accept that working for unreasonable people in unreasonable situations will never result in anything fair or even manageable.

Most every workplace has at least one of these folks. They’re the one who is calm when everyone else is losing their minds. They’re the one who deals with the boss the way you wish you could. They’re probably older and more experienced than most of their coworkers. Perhaps it seems that they get away with what they do because they have seniority or because they’re very good at their jobs.

If you ask them how they do it they’ll tell you something like, “I do the best I can do and that’s all I can do.” It sounds too easy. How do they manage their stress? They have learned to maintain a healthy perspective. Each of us has limitations and face competing demands. We are free to come to a place of accepting that our best is always good enough. And so it is.

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