self-care for accomplishment junkies
I realized recently that despite being an artist on the most “unstable” career path possible, who reminds herself to “trust the process” and “go with the creative flow,” I am, at heart, a deeply conditioned accomplishment junkie.
Accomplishment junkie as in: I get an enormous high from the feeling of having done something well, checked off an item from my to-do list, or scored high points on an assignment. I was once a child voraciously reading books to get AR points, a teenager staying home from family beach trips to practice for music competitions, a college student pushing herself to write essays that shimmered with originality and brilliance. I had a deep need to be exceptional; to impress others, yes, but mostly, to impress myself.
We are all like this to some extent. We need validation that we're doing well, on the right path, taking the right steps and meeting the right metrics. The smell of accomplishment and success is addictive, especially in a structured world of rewards and gains. This is why working out is so motivating, why before and after pics get so much attention — because you can physically see your progress in the mirror, and others will know that yes — those six pack abs are within reach. I just need to haul myself to the gym everyday.
what if the journey is a long dark road?
But. What happens when you graduate, work a few jobs, quit a few jobs, and begin the winding, sometimes perilous journey that is making your own way in the world? Being a creative, an artist, an entrepreneur or builder of any sort means working without a roadmap, relying instead wayfaring instincts, relentlessness, and resilience in the face of darkness and uncertainty.
Being an entrepreneurial builder means hustling — putting in all that time, energy, and effort — with no guarantee of success. Input X does not always equal Output Y. There is no formula, no clear metrics, no obvious ladder to climb, no assignment to conquer. In this world, we create the assignment, we decide what success is, and we grade ourselves. (And/or, we let society grade us in the form of likes, shares, and sales).
how much is enough?
There is a voice in me that is always asking, but how much is enough? Am I supposed to be doing something differently? When do I know that I’ve done a good job?
Instead, maybe a better question to ask is this:
How do I turn the craving for accomplishment into a force which gives me momentum, rather than making me feel tired, overwhelmed, anxious, and constantly feeling like I’m not enough?
Here are some ways I’ve articulated for myself. I hope it’s helpful for you too.
methods of self care
(1) Allow yourself to pick only ONE goal & ONE primary metric to measure, then only move on once it’s accomplished.
We want to master everything at once, but instead, how about giving ourselves permission to just meet ONE goal at a time? For example, if I’m trying to make money from my blog, the first goal I have is to blog consistently. The metric I’m measuring is how many posts I create per week or per month for an extended period of time — NOT how much attention does each post get, how many people are signing up for my newsletter, how are these posts driving my profit, etc, etc. That might be goal 2, 3, and 4, but I don’t put energy into those goals until I’ve mastered goal 1. Hyper-focusing helps me master one thing, feel good about myself, and then move on.
(Is it ironic that this is the first tip of self care is about how to work better?)
(2) Log progress & celebrate small wins every week
When the journey is long and uncertain, we have to continually manufacturer our own feelings of pride and celebration. Progress is motivating; it makes us happy and encourages us to do more. Everyday, I track what I’ve accomplished in list form, and I take an hour at the end of each week to review the list, and set my intentions for the next week.
(3) Make a praise file
This is a brilliant idea I got from Zeynep, my friend who’s a mindfulness teacher. I also read something like this on the Instagram of Lauren Hom, a lettering artist. Anytime someone sends me a kind note praising my work, I screenshot it and save it to a note on my phone. This is in line with the advice of “tracking good things that happen” — so that more good things can happen. Take time to celebrate, appreciate, and relish in the feeling of validation.
(4) Consider the notion of a fluid “100%”
What if giving my 100% represented a fluid baseline that changed everyday? Some days, 100% looks like working ten hour days at my computer. Other days, 100% looks like writing in coffee shops, meeting with inspiring friends, letting ideas percolate and simmer. Once we know ourselves and our psychic metabolism more fully, we can be more sensitive to what we need, more accepting of different forms of productivity. This is how we give rise to spontaneity — by finding a subtle back and forth balance between doing, and being.
(5) Ask yourself: what if I was enough, right here, right now?
What if I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing? What if I’m making exactly the mistakes I need to make, creating exactly what I need to create, meeting exactly who I need to meet? What if every step I’m taking in this moment, this day, is paving the way for exactly the future I’ve always dreamed of? What if I could trust that I’m not merely doing enough, I am enough? How does that feeling settle in your body?
Being an accomplishment junkie is a gift and a curse — and if you’re an accomplishment junkie, it’s probably from years of cultural and family conditioning. In any case, it doesn’t matter. What matters is how we embody it, own it, and use it to our greatest power.
Prompts for you and me
What’s your one goal and one metric, right now?
What did you already accomplish this week?
What’s one thing in your praise file?
What does 100% look like for you, just for today?
What if you were enough? How would it feel different? How would you work differently?