Yesterday was a gorgeous day. When I left work shortly after 5:00 p.m., the sun was still shining and it truly felt like spring. It was one of those days that just called me outdoors. In fact, when I arrived at home, I didn’t even go into the house. I parked the van in the garage, grabbed a toque and some mitts, and headed straight outside for a nice long walk at a nearby park.
It was a beautiful, calm evening, and the sun was just starting to set in the horizon as I walked around the lake. I was so grateful for these peaceful moments that I had all to myself. I prayed as I walked, thanking God for the beauty all around me, so grateful for His incredible glory displayed in the stunning sunset and the sparkling icy snow.
As I weaved through the wooded pathways, my mind turned to the conversation I’d had with my psychologist a few days ago. As I mentioned in One Step Closer, she had asked me to consider how my obsessive nature has positively influenced my life.
To be honest, I find it difficult to think of any positives. To me, the obsessive compulsive thoughts and behaviours that have developed in my life only ever feel like a burden. But instead of thinking about how trapped I can feel inside of my own mental fixations, my assignment was to look at the ways this aspect of my personality has actually benefitted my life. Two things came to mind as I asked God to help me see the value in what I otherwise see as a completely undesirable trait.
1. Strong Conscience and Character Growth
One of my main obsessions is “moral perfectionism”. Here’s a simple, rather trivial example of what this might look like for me. Sometimes, if I am walking outside and I notice a piece of litter on the ground, I feel compelled to pick it up—not because it’s a nice thing to do for the environment, but because if I don’t, I will feel guilty and believe I’m a bad person. But as soon as I pick up that piece of litter, I will inevitably see another piece. And since I picked up the first piece, I will have to pick up the second one. It’s easy to see how this cycle could continue indefinitely and drive a person completely crazy! This is obviously the side of my obsessive nature that I see as an agonizing burden.
That being said, yesterday I realized that these moral obsessions have actually allowed me to grow in character. Because my conscience is so sensitive, I am always careful to follow up with people if I sense that I may have offended them. It pushes me to confess when I feel that I have wronged someone, instead of holding it in and letting the issue fester. This has also allowed me to grow in my relationship with God because I am constantly checking my heart for junk that doesn’t belong there, maybe more than the average person. It turns out that this could actually be seen as a strength.
2. Achieving Success
Another thing I obsess about is details. If I don’t feel in control over the details of a situation, my life starts to feel like a chaotic disaster. When I’m not in a positive mental space, I have a very hard time leaving things open-ended or not accounting for every tiny, little aspect of a plan. At times, this can become quite onerous and produce a lot of anxiety, especially when things don’t line up with my standards of perfection.
But Yesterday I realized that if it hadn’t been for my obsession with details, I would not have achieved the degree of success in life that I have to date. It is this attention to detail that has allowed me to rise into a position of leadership. It drives me to work hard, and it pushes me to do everything I do with a high level of excellence. As a result, my work has more of an impact on others and experiences greater results.
As I thought about these benefits, I couldn’t help but see my obsessive tendencies as a gift. God reminded me that He made me exactly the way He wanted me to be—He didn’t make any mistakes. And in that moment, I had a revelation. In the case of a life-threatening illness, you might have to take some medications that will ultimately save your life, but may have some negative side effects along the way. Nevertheless, because the benefits of taking the medication far outweigh side effects, the choice becomes simple.
I’ve realized that my obsessive personality is a little bit like that. I can see it now as a gift that has allowed me to experience immense personal growth and achieve significant success in many areas of my life. Yes, it has come with a variety of very confusing side effects—ones that I would consider ‘negative’.
But the truth is, that in that grand scheme of things, the benefits have far outweighed the side effects. I wouldn’t be who I am today, or where I am today, without this aspect of my personality. And if I can learn to control my obsessions, I can enjoy the benefit of having them drive me to personal growth and success, rather than letting them drive me crazy!