For Fear of Failure: Working with OCD
Obsessive Compulsion Disorder is an amorphous animal, manifesting itself in various ways in different people: repetitive tics, frequent handwashing, the proper position of a toothbrush on the bathroom counter.
It also appears in less distinctive forms that can easily be misinterpreted as generic stress, such as sleepless nights, preoccupied thoughts, and excessive working. No matter how hard and how long one toils, the work accomplished never seems good enough. There is something still unobtainable that might be gained with more effort. This is how OCD exists in the workplace.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, OCD is “a common, chronic and long-lasting disorder in which a person has uncontrollable, reoccurring thoughts (obsessions) and behaviors (compulsions) that he or she feels the urge to repeat over and over.” In my experience, obsessions stem from someone or something I love, while compulsions, the actions believed to sustain that obsession, are meant to prevent said love from being lost. Compulsions grow out of a fear of what could happen if I don’t perform the right steps at the right times to preserve and protect my obsession.
In this way, OCD has not only interfered with my life but has become my life, for better or for worse.
Enter the workaholic.
I am a graduate student who is constantly engrossed in my teaching and research. My work is my passion, and I think about it daily. I dream of becoming a professor and I will do anything to achieve that goal, including neglecting other areas of my life. I work constantly during the school year because, in my mind, I must put in all of my labors if I want to avoid failure. Anything less than one hundred percent effort is not good enough, for my objective (the obsession) cannot be fulfilled if I do not spend every hour of every day devoted to my studies (the compulsion). I don’t even like half the work, but I exert the same amount of energy for the stuff I enjoy and the stuff I hate. My mind tells me that I have to do it all perfectly if I want to succeed.
You can imagine the drawbacks of such a lifestyle. Priorities include work and only the most basic essentials, like food and sleep. As for a social life, it’s virtually nonexistent. Last semester I allotted myself one full day to see friends, and that was it. In my mind’s defense, I do have an incredibly large workload, and I honestly don’t know how I would have fared if I had taken more time off. I know that there is a need for balance and that I cannot be truly happy without my family and friends (a boyfriend would be nice too, but who has time for that?). I am working on juggling my studies while making socializing a priority as well because the only fear I have that is greater than failing to achieve my career goals is never finding a soulmate.
Despite these negatives, OCD has a silver lining. Incredibly successful people, those who go above and beyond in their work, are not “normal.” In many instances, they’re considered crazy. Michelangelo, Einstein, Beethoven, Tesla: these geniuses also suffered from OCD.
Only obsessive people push themselves beyond sane limits, and as a result, they accomplish the extraordinary.
*The author of this post has chosen to remain anonymous.