What is Performance Orientation All About?

Performing well or carrying out an assignment to the best of your ability is an honorable endeavor. And who doesn’t enjoy a well-executed performance, especially by acclaimed figures like actors, musicians and athletes?

But performance orientation can often be a harsh task-master. Ask yourself:

  • Am I constantly “performing” and never free to be the person I truly am?
  • Do I ever feel satisfied?
  • Do I feel like I never accomplish enough no matter how hard I strive?
  • Do I only find my value in doing, accomplishing and executing tasks – even to the point of exhaustion?

Suddenly “performance” is a lifestyle that has you trapped, unable to rest and relentlessly pursuing fulfillment that never arrives. This is what we call “performance orientation.” It’s when you find yourself caught up in a never-ending cycle of proving your worth to yourself and to others.

Characteristics of a Performance-Oriented Individual

Performance-oriented people appear very differently on the outside than they feel on the inside. On the outside they are competent, confident and often cheerful and friendly.

However, on the inside insecurity reigns. People who suffer from performance orientation:

  • Work hard and become angry if they perceive that you aren’t working as hard as they are.
  • Require constant affirmation, sometimes even asking for a compliment.
  • Do not handle criticism well because they feel rejected and unloved when corrected.
  • Find their security in what people think about them.
  • Become whatever it takes to gain approval and acceptance from others.
  • Will often defer to others, even if they disagree.
  • Often feel unappreciated by others because they overwork themselves and feel slighted when it goes unnoticed.
  • Give affection based on behavior because they believe that you have to deserve or earn love to be loved.
  • Are often afraid to try new things for fear of failure.
  • Are often self-controlled to the point of rigidity.

In contrast, a person can work hard and accomplish much without being performance-oriented. These types of people:

  • Work hard, focusing on their own responsibilities and trusting others to focus on theirs.
  • Appreciate and accept compliments but do not require them to stay motivated.
  • Accept correction as an opportunity to improve.
  • Find security in God and in themselves.
  • Are consistent in personality across a variety of settings because they aren’t reliant on approval from others.
  • Are confident in their own opinions even if they disagree with what others are saying or doing.
  • Are not overly concerned about being appreciated for their hard work and will take breaks, days off and vacation time.
  • Love and give affection unconditionally.
  • Can be spontaneous and willing to try new things.
  • Are self-controlled without being threatened by a break in routine.

So you see, performance orientation is not about whether you work hard, it is about why you work hard.

Who Becomes Performance Oriented?

Performance orientation is a mindset that usually begins in childhood. Perfection and conformity are expected by demanding parents or guardians. As the child grows up there is a decision to make: Either be a source of pride by going along with the plan and meeting expectations, or be a source of disappointment by having a diverse opinion and doing things differently.

Here are some ways that performance orientation becomes ingrained into a child’s psyche:

  • When a parent shows affection only when they are pleased with their child’s behavior and accomplishments
  • When there is little tolerance in the home for “hanging out” or even playfulness because it seems like a waste of time
  • When people are not allowed to feel angry or express differing points of view
  • When children are constantly reminded that they represent the family and they must uphold the good reputation and social standing that the family has worked so hard to establish.
  • When a report card of all A’s and one B is not good enough

Occasionally performance orientation begins in adulthood. Rejection in relationships from an employer or from someone in authority can trigger performance orientation. The belief is that if you just try harder and do a good jobyou will be accepted. However, adults who were brought up with unconditional love and acceptance from their families are usually secure enough to resist the urge to please everyone at any cost.

The Danger of Performance Orientation

One danger is that when the child who grew up in a performance-oriented family marries and becomes a parent, they often treat their family members the way they were treated. Without a change of mindset, the next generation will live under the same perfectionistic expectations and find they are lacking joy and fulfillment in their lives.

Another danger in all of this is that the performance-oriented person will exhaust themselves to the point of depression. Some decide to stop caring what people think to the point of causing harm to themselves or their loved ones. That is why it is not uncommon to find reputable, upstanding citizens in the community give in to extra-marital affairs, alcohol and drug addiction or financial improprieties.

They simply cannot maintain the perfect standards that they have set for themselves so they blow it all away on a few bad decisions with irreversible consequences. This may make them feel free for the first time in their lives, but it will lead to bondage of a whole different kind.

Attain Freedom From Performance Orientation

Are you a person who struggles with performance orientation? If so, there is hope for you, but it will require changing your belief system — which is no easy task. Don’t buy into lies about what makes you valuable and about what God and others expect of you.

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