Learn how to break free from the pressure to perform.
Sitting at Kathi’s kitchen table, I unfold and refold a napkin a dozen times before making the announcement that’s been brewing for weeks.
“I’m resigning as the hardest-working speaker you know.”
Kathi looks up from pouring coffee. “Cheri, when I say ‘you’re the hardest-working speaker I know,’ I mean it as a compliment!”
“Oh, I know you do. And for all these years, I’ve considered it the highest possible praise. But now I’m realizing that you’ve been praising me for – and I’ve even been feeling good about – achieving a goal I don’t even value.”
“Huh?” Kathi hands me a mug and gives me a quizzical eye.
I sigh into my mocha. “I’ve never wanted to be the hardest-working anything you know. I’d far rather be the most creative…the funniest…the quirkiest…pretty much anything other than the hardest-working!”
Kathi knits her brow. “Then why do you work so hard?”
“It’s all I know how to do. I get started and keep working and never know when to stop. I don’t know how to tell if I’ve done enough. So I just keep working harder and harder.”
“Even though you don’t really want to?”
“Wow. I thought you really liked working really hard.”
Kathi stirs her coffee. “You know, in all the years we’ve known each other, I’ve been feeling guilty that I don’t work as hard as you.”
I mimic a teenage eye-roll. “Oh, don’t! It’s so not worth it!”
“I had no idea you were working so hard out of fear, not joy.” She reaches out and puts her hand over mine.
My mocha becomes blurry. “Neither did I. Neither did I.”
Breaking the Pressure to Perform
After Kathi and I had this conversation six years ago, I was overwhelmed by one powerful emotion: regret.
Regret that I’d followed Performancism’s orders to “just work harder.” Regret that I was so late in recognizing Performancism as the slave driver he is.
All the time I’d invested on “perfect” projects? Wasted.
It’s not fair.
All the times I’d gone over-and-above expectations at work? Meaningless.
It’s not fair.
All the time I hadn’t spent with family and friends? Gone.
It’s not fair.
I didn’t know any better.
If only I could go back and do it all over again …
When you’re weighed down by decades of regret, it’s hard to breathe, let alone move.
But even amidst all the regret, something else was stirring.
I’d start to round up the usual anxiety for a new project and suddenly remember: I don’t have to work that way any more.
I’d start to mock myself for all the mistakes I’d made in a conversation and suddenly recall: I don’t have to impress anyone any more.
I’d start to fret about the many friendships I’d ruined and suddenly realize: I don’t have to keep doing what I’ve always done.
Relief motivated me to make new choices.
I told an authority figure “no.”
I said “yes” to something fun.
I didn’t fret when the something fun turned out to be no fun after all.
I added to my gratitude journal each day.
And I made one more seemingly small choice with enormous ramifications.
Re-reading the Gospels
I read through Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John again, slowly, lingering as long as I liked in each chapter before moving on to the next. Without Performancism breathing down my neck, I saw Jesus in a whole new light.
I spent months reading and re-reading the stories of Jesus’ encounters with women, seeing how Jesus responded to women, how Jesus made women feel.
I discovered that Jesus used the word “wise” to describe women who said “no.” (Matthew 25:1-13 NIV)
I stayed in John 21 for a full year, awed by the safety Peter — despite all his failures — found in Christ and Christ alone.
Looking back over the last six years, I am thank-full. I can see how small changes combined into big changes that have accelerated into huge changes. God is restoring the years that Performancism consumed (Joel 2:25 KJV).
And as I look forward, I am hope-full. God is “doing a new thing” and “making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland” (Isaiah 43:19 NLT).
Perhaps you, too, hear the incessant inner voice telling you to “Just work harder!” Maybe you, too, feel that your identity is based on your productivity.
If so, I want you to know that you can break free from Performancism.
In the process, you will feel some regret.
But as God does His “new thing” in your life, you’ll feel even greater relief which will lead to new choices.
And one day you’ll realize that although you’re still working hard, it’s no longer from fear.
From now on, it’s for joy.
Break the Pressure to Perform With Our New Book Club!
Kathi Lipp and Cheri Gregory have a new book available for pre-order now. “You Don’t Have to Try So Hard” will enable you to break free from the bullies of perfectionism, performancism, people-pleasing, and procrastination.
Click HERE to find out more and to sign up for the Book Club so you can find freedom from the pressure to perform.
Cheri is the co-author, with Kathi Lipp, of Overwhelmed and You Don't Have to Try So Hard. She's also the co-host, with Amy Carroll, of the Grit 'n' Grace podcast.
Cheri has been “wife of my youth” to Daniel, her opposite personality, for 30 years and is “Mom” to Annemarie (27) and Jonathon (25), also opposite personalities.
Cheri blogs about personalities, perfectionism, people-pleasing, and mother-daughter relationships at CheriGregory.com and life as a Highly Sensitive Person at SensitiveAndStrong.com