Tethered to Performance

I got an email recently from a client. Apparently, I left a small mishap on a painting and they wanted to have it touched up. I felt ashamed, embarrassed even, and it surfaced my ever-present fear of disappointing people and falling short of "good-enough". I figured I might as well share what I have learned about performance, since I might not be the only one who struggles with it...

Check your motives. 

Nobody likes to be corrected, nor does anyone like to be called out on their mistakes. Our immediate response is typically offense, or defensiveness, or God-forbid...shame. Whenever I feel my emotions rising, the "trigger" forces me to ask myself, "What about this situation directly correlates to my identity, and where I have allowed something outside myself to speak into my value?"

For many of us, our identity is often tied directly to our performance. 

If we perform well, whether in our jobs, relationships, work-outs etc., our identity is secure and we feel valued. If _____ doesn't value us (fill in the blank with whatever you personally look to for affirmation) we feel deflated and defeated.

We define ourselves by what we can do or what others think of us, rather than who we are. 

Personally, in my "trigger" moments, my immediate response is shame, rarely valuing myself enough to recognize mistakes do not directly insult my identity. I get lost seeking my affirmation, more often than not, in my job and relationships. I will be the first to admit, I have a severe case of "people pleasing", constantly driven to bend over backwards in efforts to please and not offend. I am so afraid to be disappointed in. 

Growing up, the voices of disappointment from those we love, keep us a stone's throw from home, and fence us into a performance based life --"If I do not do the right thing, I will not be loved."-- This mindset can trap us in a never-ending cycle of constant anxiety, fear and striving. For my entire life, my sense of identity wobbled and shook with the winds, dependent on if I faltered or fell short in the least. 

But over the years, I have learned to forgive myself and move forward out of a place of immovable acceptance and love, rather than driven by fear. 

I share all this not to bore you with mindless thoughts, but because I have a feeling I am not the only one who struggles with this, so called, "performance driven nature", and I want to tell you, you are not alone. 

Three steps that might just help move you away from unhealthy performance motives:

1. Breathe. 

When I start to hear those voices of severe doubt, I have to stop myself from spiraling into complete discouragement. There have been so many times I had to stop what I was doing, and go for a run, or even just a walk outside for 10 minutes to clear my head. 

2. Find your compass. 

Out in the ocean, sailors often cannot see where they are going. The first place they look is to their compass for direction. We all have a compass. For me, I find immovable identity in my faith in Jesus Christ. But, it might be different for you...seek out a friend to talk to, or find a mentor to help you start thinking about where your identity comes from. 

3. Remain True to your Authentic Self.

I got a tattoo on my wrist to remind me to "Abide" (warning: tattoos are permanent, don't be impulsive). It reminds me, no matter how many people complain about my paintings, or tell me I am wrong, my identity is not determined by what others think. Do not jeopardize your authentic style, especially in creative careers, to try and please your audience.

If you are seeking more, or if this resonated with you, I would encourage you to read Brene Brown's books, and watch her Ted talk: https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability?language=en

"I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing." -John 15:5

Jennie Pitts

Jennie Lou Art, Denver, Colorado

Jennie Pitts is a local painter out of Denver, Colorado. Born and raised in Austin, Texas. Paints original acrylic pieces specializing in live wedding paintings, and personalized commission pieces.