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Stress and frustration

Are You Letting Ambition Get The Better Of You?

1024 683 Rachel Le Feuvre, Reset Button


Ambition often brings some tricky traits with it that you have to be mindful of.

1. Perfectionism. Many ambitious types are also big perfectionists. While this is good in many ways – attention to detail can drive success – it can also frequently hold people back. The fear of something not being quite good enough can lead all too often to nothing being done at all. I often see at the retreat how people are pushing themselves to be perfect, when really they already are: they just can’t see it. As human beings we have very high expectations of ourselves. Instead of being proud of who we are right now and the journey we are on, we tend to look constantly to the person we think we could be. At the retreat we encourage loving who you are right now.

2. Determination. The problem with having your heart set on one thing in particular is that you lose an amount of flexibility which is required for success. It’s good to have a clear idea of what you want, but if you are too focused on one goal you may blinker yourself and miss an obvious opportunity hanging right in front of your eyes. Yes, be like a dog with a bone, but remember there are also other bones, equally good, possibly even better than the one you’re so desperately clasping onto.

3. Disappointment. The ambitious can suffer from severe disappointment. In themselves. In others. In the world. They want so much that when things don’t work out it feels personal and soul-destroying. Ambitious people dream big, and the world needs these people, but they in turn need to control their aspirations. Strive for great things, but try to keep your expectations in line with reality and you’ll not go through the pain of disappointment. My motto in life (admittedly borrowed from a corporate slogan spotted on the wall at the easyJet headquarters when doing an advertising project for them years ago!) is ‘Underpromise and overdeliver’. Say you probably won’t be able to do something, then do it better than anyone could have ever expected – you will blow their minds!

4. Workaholism. Ambitious people are so compelled to succeed that they often don’t know when’s the right time to stop. It’s far too easy to burn out, to forget the importance of the work-life balance (believe me, I’ve been there). It’s really important to remember that life isn’t just about work. Make the most of every moment, of all the people around you who you love and who love you. One of the worst realisations possible is waking up feeling that your life has raced you by and you’ve missed what’s really important. Stop once in a while and take stock.

Stress and frustration


One of the principal elements of Reset Button is introducing people to Mindfulness, which in today’s busy world is fundamental to our wellbeing. It helps people slow down, decompress and rather than mindlessly following the goals they think will one day make them happy, instead allows them to choose the life they want to live today.



How To Live As A Happy Perfectionist In 6 Steps

1024 576 Deborah Newton, life-coach for Clear Skies Coaching Limited


Perfectionism can lead us to achieve great things. A certain level can be healthy and can be motivating. But at its worst, it can be a contributor to anxiety, depression, eating disorders, relationship break-downs, obsessive compulsive disorder, chronic fatigue syndrome. It can mean we are caught in a cycle of self-blame and criticism if our ambitions are not met. We feel worthless because we are failing to reach (often unattainable) goals.

So how can we deal with the perfectionist self? Awareness of our perfectionism and accompanying self-criticism is the first step.

What Do We Mean By Perfectionism?
Perfectionism has been defined in psychology (Stoeber & Childs 2010) as “a personality disposition characterised by an individual striving for flawlessness and setting excessively high performance standards, accompanied by overly critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others’ evaluations.”


The Infectiousness of Perfectionism
Perfectionism may be present in many areas of your life: relationships, fitness and diet, hobbies and interests. Even personal development can turn into a self-flagellation exercise with a focus on attaining perfection or indeed ‘enlightenment’.

Being a perfectionist may have served you very well as a lawyer. Accuracy, a keen attention to detail, doing a ‘good job’, or simply striving for excellence, are all attributes which spring to mind. You may find that your clients are happy, as your work is of a high standard. Friends and acquaintances may well admire you for your perceived success. But how do you feel on the inside?

Beware The Uphill Battle
Perfectionism can feel like running on a treadmill. And it can come in any of the following guises:

• You generally think you could do better. Extreme perfectionism comes from a source of feeling deeply flawed; not being good enough.

• You often compare yourself to others.

• You believe you will feel happier or better about yourself when you’ve reached the bar you’ve set for yourself.
• You categorise things in a black or white fashion: good or bad, success or failure, right or wrong. There is no in-between.
• When things don’t go as you had hoped, you blame yourself. It’s your fault. You’re a failure.
• If you do achieve what you set out to achieve, you assume you got lucky; people felt sorry for you; the bar was too low.
• You focus on results, and dismiss effort and intention as irrelevant.
• Hobbies are less about enjoyment but more about achieving or reaching perfection.
• You focus on self-improvement. You rarely acknowledge your achievements. Any feelings of satisfaction at achieving certain things are only temporary.
• You take criticism as negative and personal.
• You spend a long time on tasks, pouring over details. Ultimately making you less efficient.
• You avoid certain situations for fear of not being good enough in front of people. The irony with being a perfectionist is that it can sometimes stop us from achieving what we are trying to do well!

How To Be A Happy Perfectionist
1. Be conscious of your perfectionist traits and the impact they may be having on your daily life.
2. Notice any thoughts you have of self-judgment. Recognise them for what they are – thoughts. See if you can catch your thoughts before you become embroiled in a destructive cycle of self-criticism.
3. Be mindful of high bars you’re setting for yourself. See if you can accept a lower, more attainable bar. Perhaps you could aim for 80% instead of 100%? A perfectionist’s ‘80%’ often equates to someone else’s 100%…
4. Accept your mistakes! OK, I know it’s easy for me to write that – none of us want to make mistakes. But mistakes in life are inevitable. It’s how we react to them that’s important. We can actively choose to learn from mistakes and move on from them.
5. Don’t define yourself by a list of achievements or external factors. Acknowledge your positive traits and qualities.
6. Treat yourself with the same loving kindness you would treat someone dear to you. You deserve it, even when you do make a mistake…

And remember, what we perceive as a ‘mistake’ may well turn out to be the best thing that could have happened to us.



Bravery, Not Perfectionism

1024 576 Mrs Carol Chandler Thompson


Bravery, not perfectionism. Blackheath High girls are taught to tackle life’s challenges head on.

We will all experience failure in some area of our lives, but for teenage girls, dealing with the emotions associated with ‘failure’ can be a challenging time. It can be tempting to protect our daughters and pupils from these setbacks, fearful of damaging their fragile self-esteem, but a lifetime of working in girls-only education has re-inforced my passionate belief that this does not benefit girls in any way. IK Rowling’s 2008 commencement speech at Harvard was an inspiring testament to the inner strength that can be built through experiencing setbacks and learning from them. As she argued so persuasively: “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case,you fail by default.”

All too often, students, especially young women, can fall into the trap of failing to fulfil their potential through fear of making mistakes, or through negative perfectionism which cripples their ability to take risks. Kay and Shipman’s book ‘The Confidence Code’ talks about a confidence gap that separates the sexes, starting in schools where girls are typically rewarded for being ‘good’ instead of energetic, brave or even ‘pushy’. Research also suggests that women repeatedly underestimate their abilities, are reluctant to apply for promotion and, once in post, can suffer from ‘imposter syndrome’ (the false belief that they are somehow a fraud who will be found out at any moment).


At Blackheath High School, students benefit from an approach that means they are far better equipped to risk failure, be courageous and believe and acknowledge their own strengths and abilities. Teaching inspires girls to develop a questioning, evidence-based approach to their studies. They are encouraged to ask questions, embrace uncertainties and develop the problem-solving skills that are so vital in the world beyond school. Qualifications like the Extended Project Qualification or courses like ‘Global Perspectives’ or ‘Matrix of Knowledge’ teach students not only a body of knowledge, but also how they might approach a situation when they do not know what the answer might be. All subjects, including science and technology-based subjects, are considered ‘girls’ subjects’ at Blackheath High and it is typical to see graduates this summer heading off to an array of courses that includes: Chemical Engineering; Mathematics; Anthropology and Medicine, amongst others.

A wide-ranging and ambitious co-curricular programme at Blackheath High enables students to leap outside their comfort zones and try themselves out. This might be testing themselves physically hiking in the Peruvian Andes, like some of our girls this summer; it might be defending the Green party manifesto at a school mock election; taking to the stage for a percussion solo or it might attempting Astronomy GCSE in their spare time. Whatever the arena, the school fosters an environment where girls are encouraged and expected to take risks, learn from any failures and foster their resilience and tenacity.

For such an approach to be successful, a school community needs to be attuned to the emotional and social needs of its students, in our case, exclusively girls. 135 years of educating talented young women, as part of the hugely successful Girls Day School Trust, means we benefit from a depth of expertise and experience in supporting our students. Expert pastoral care and a genuinely balanced approach to education enables Blackheath High girls to go onto the next phase of the lives as poised young women, free from gender stereotypes and confident in their abilities.


Perfectionism Can Be Bad For Your Health

1024 682 iPerform


New research published at the end of last month by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology has discovered a strong link between Perfectionism and stress and burnout in the workplace.

In the past two decades, 43 separate studies have looked into how perfectionists cope both at home and at work, and the potential health impacts. This meta-analysis of all 43 shows there are different types of perfectionist behaviour that can have positive and negative effects.

Perfectionist Concerns
The study looked at what psychologists call “Perfectionist Concerns”. This is where people worry constantly about making mistakes, measuring up to very high standards and fearing that they will let others down if they don’t. What tends to happen is that these concerns make people hold on to negative attitudes, doubts and fears about their own performance, which can lead to stress and eventually burnout. This in turn leads to negative reinforcement every time a mistake is made, as it is viewed as a major setback leading to a loss of engagement, increased cynicism and a lack of effort and care. Studies have shown that this can lead to greater strain on personal relationships, increases fatigue, anxiety, depression and even early death in the long term.

The impact of Perfectionist Concerns is particularly acute in the workplace, according to the researchers. Burnout comes about more quickly due to perfectionism at work because, unlike education and sport, there are fewer support networks or clear goals that can be attained. At school, an A grade can delay Perfectionist concern, as can winning an important tournament in sport. At work, success is a lot less defined.

Perfectionist Strivings
Although Perfectionism definitely has a negative impact, there are also circumstances where it can be useful as in education and sport. This is called “Perfectionist Striving” where people set themselves high personal goals and proactively seek them out. When these aims are kept, the accomplishment in trying to attain them, delays negative health issues such as burnout, according to the researchers.


Pressure To Be Perfect

1024 627 Stewart Brown


It started out as being a fun game. Spotting typo’s on menus. My friends would laugh with me at some of the amusing mistakes. But my tutting at unnecessary double-spacing soon got on their nerves.

I couldn’t help it. Nine months in to my training contract at a Magic Circle Firm and the mantra “attention to detail” followed me wherever I went, including when I had left the office. Perpetual proof-reading had turned me into a pedant.

perfect pressure

I guess it all started when my supervisor gave me some advice at the start of my first seat. “The way to keep me happy,” he intoned with a stern look on his face, “Is to ensure that the staple is at a right angle to the top edge in the top left corner of the paper. Stapling at an angle just will not do.” I added this requirement to the growing list of requirements of how to be the ‘Perfect Lawyer’.

And perfection was what I was aiming for. My work was examined in minute detail by my supervisors. I longed for the day when a two-line email was returned to me without corrections. As my responsibility grew, so did the pressure to get everything just right. Triple checking became the norm. I would start early and finish late to ensure attainment of the standards that I thought signified success.

Looking back, the pressure to be perfect warped my perspective and eroded my confidence; suggestions from senior lawyers became criticisms; minor errors became major mishaps in my head.

Fortunately, I learnt a valuable lesson towards the end of my training contract. It was Monday morning and I had worked all weekend with a senior lawyer (let’s call him Michael) on a financing deal, which had to launch by 2pm that afternoon. Lack of sleep started to impact my work. Errors started creeping in. Michael spotted my growing irritation. “You are doing a great job.” he assured me. “Let’s look at the big picture. We have documented the important detail. We have a limited amount of time to get the rest into shape. And that will be good enough. Just do the best you can.”


Nearly 20 years later, I can still picture that moment. Experience had taught Michael that getting stuff done for your client sometimes means that everything might not be perfect. He had reminded me to focus on what really matters, namely, understanding and correctly documenting the commercial intention of the deal.

Now, don’t get me wrong, when I worked as an in-house lawyer years later, sloppy drafting, incorrect numbering and frequent spelling errors did more to undermine my confidence in the content than anything else. And we can all think of cases where minutiae have mattered; where cases have been won or lost on single words and phrases. But, my point is this: Michael’s wise words prompted me to give myself permission to make mistakes and to redirect my attention to the detail that really mattered.

People have an amazing ability to beat ourselves up. We treat ourselves like a lodger rather than a friend. We criticise, complain and outright attack ourselves in a way that we would never do to another person. We construct a model of the ideal person we wish we were and then beat ourselves up for failing to match up to those impossible requirements.

My experience is that lawyers have a particular problem with this type of self-abuse, which often stems from that self-imposed pressure to be perfect. Unhelpful training and unnecessary client pressure can compound the situation.

So, my advice is focus on what really matters. Understand where that pressure to be perfect comes from and give yourself permission to make mistakes. Your health and relationships depend on it.