Stop Giving Things 100%

I quit giving things 100%.

I have a pervasive pattern of perfectionist boom-bust cycles where I overcommit, underperform, burn out, recoil, then lie supine, staring at my bedroom ceiling as I haphazardly count the seconds until I’m flooded with shameful relief from flaking. I have disrupted this pattern, but I don’t yet feel I’ve liberated myself from it. At best, I have located my turning point.

Autumn 2005: My Latin teacher hands out a poem about half-assing things, the gist of which is ‘Doing only a pretty good job leads to a life of mediocrity.’ I cheat on a Latin test even though I am pretty good at Latin.

Autumn 2018: I have failed to deliver on a major project at a former job. My then-best-friend-to-be tells me “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly.” I finish, poorly.

By 2018, I had flunked out of college after multiple attempts. By 2021, I graduated as the valedictorian from an associate’s degree program. A minor victory in the scale of our society, but a major one within the scope of my life. What changed?

I instituted a rule: I give things 80% of my effort. I do not allow myself to freak out unless I get back less than 80% on an assignment.

When I was younger, I would complete most of an assignment with the intent to make it the best thing I’d ever done. Everything was a magnum opus. Little was finished. I was embarrassed by my reputation. Every endeavor was a potential redemption arc where I’d failed to stick the landing. Since instituting my 80% Rule, I realize most things are trivial. I have far fewer anxiety attacks.

I’m currently struggling with depression and burn-out. Sticking to the 80% Rule is difficult when I feel this low. I sit in my parked car before class, white-knuckling the steering wheel and boring a hole through the ignition with my eyeballs as I will myself to go to class even if I’m a few minutes late because I had to spend 2 hours that morning convincing myself I’m building a life worth living.

When a voice inside of me tells me I am fundamentally a failure—any success I’ve earned was a fluke—adhering to the 80% Rule feels nigh impossible. I feel sucked back into this mentality of having to prove I’m Not Actually The Worst, I’m The Best. But the core of the 80% Rule is that I don’t need to be the best. It’s okay to just be.

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