Nothing Left to Prove: Battling Back Against Needing to Be the Best

Much of my life encompasses the strong desire to prove myself. I don’t know whether or not I’m highly competitive by birth, but I’m sure there are some genes for competitiveness in there somewhere. For a perfectionist, being the best means turning all of your childhood’s pain into glory, while making sure that those who mistreated you know that you’re better than them. In what? Pretty much everything.

If you read through the biographies of some of the world’s greatest athletes and thinkers, you’ll discover tragedy and a desperate need to overcome it. Stories of abuse, neglect, rape, and bullying pervade their lives, accompanying despair. As it was with them, the walls, perfectionism being one, for me went up long ago; I can’t even recall the last time I felt that I could just relax and enjoy any semblance of success. For those who know, it’s one’s own trap, one from which he can’t simply escape.

Clinical psychologists note that social anxiety is the difficulty of getting out of one’s own head in social scenarios, essentially the constant managing of one’s image. Conversations naturally flow from two or more parties who are interested in, and focusing on, each other. (That’s how we learn to like each other.) But, it wasn’t like that for me because I craved acceptance. I carefully crafted my words and gestures, conforming to their expectations, or at least to what I considered them to be. Most of my life has been tied up with being intelligent and playing the part well. But, I recently began to examine why I would even want to. I’m aware of why then, but why now? What purpose does it serve?

In a childhood full of ridicule, I learned that achievement was the way past low self-esteem, proving to others I was better. My history of being bullied is the driver of what I do, and sometimes, I think it’s all that I am. On the one hand, it’s my motivator; on the other, it’s my roadblock. One of the main struggles of social anxiety disorder is the desire for constant improvement, thus wishing to barricade oneself from the world until the process reaches its conclusion. So, I spent a great deal of my time learning, while never being satisfied with how much I knew. Like Faust, my lust for knowledge was insatiable.

And my writing… that had to be perfect, too. You can image the tail-spin I went into when I spotted minor flaws. But, again, I still don’t really know why I need to be a genius, or if I would be happy being one. I recently read about the life of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, learning that much of the perception of his genius stemmed from others’ inability to grasp his work. As with other insecure (probably the majority) philosophers and thinkers, it’s hard to asses whether his work was brilliant or unintentionally vague. When I read some of my earlier writing, I, at times, genuinely can’t understand what I wrote. I tried so hard to make the material complex, and worthy of my intellect, that I created bad literature. And if my goal was to use my words to help, and subsequently relate, I did a hell of a job at erecting another wall.

In the past, I brushed off criticism without consideration because I wanted my writing to be perfect. Now, wondering if anyone (especially any of our vague philosophers) is actually a genius, I try my best to incorporate feedback and treat my articles as living documents, subject to revision. Being the best is one thing, but believing you already are is another. The demons I currently fight are only remnants in my head, the memories of events long-gone that are unlikely to return. So, it’s up to me to accept reality as it is and the imperfection of who I am. In carefully curating my image, I hardly ever bonded with anyone else, and in the nonsensical phrasing of my articles, I blocked my readers out as well.

But, I want to say thank you to those of you who sent me feedback on my work. Your comments and their integration have made it what it is. Nothing of any value is achieved alone, and definitely not my writing.

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