Image from Pexels

Image from Pexels

I’ll admit it. I am a perfectionist. I willingly take on more than I can chew and set absurdly high expectations for myself. The mantra continuously chanting through my head is be perfect, in all aspects, at all times – never be caught off guard.

It’s understandable, after all, who doesn’t want to be perfect? We see the word “perfect” flung at us through TV screens, lust for the bodies of “perfect” people, and aspire to be “perfect” in the eyes of our peers and teachers. This mentality is a product of our faultfinding society and our “survival of the fittest” ideology.

This desire to achieve perfection trickles into all aspects of our lives, including school. Classes turn into battlefields, each student a solider, duking it out amongst themselves for teacher approval and killing themselves over grades. Mistrust and slander hangs thick in the air around all, and self-loathing and negative thinking plagues the mind.

This is obviously not a way to learn or make friends or live one’s life: so why do we do it? Why do we fall for this perfection fallacy?

In a New York Times Magazine article entitled Our Imperfect Search for Perfection, Carina Chocano talks about how “perfection” in today’s society means you must outsmart everyone else or be doomed to live a live of mediocrity. Isn’t this the same mentality students have regarding school? One must get 100% on every test and be the first in class rank- otherwise they are dumb failures. This horrible way of thinking is ingrained in our minds, and is the root of our perfectionist problem. In fact, a 2013 National College Health Assessment found that 46% of college students experience severe bouts depression from time to time due to the pressures they face at school.

Striving for perfection is a waste of time and effort. Logically speaking, it’s obvious that you cannot achieve to a standard that does not exist. Yet here we are, living in fear of silly standards created by others. This warped mindset gives way to pessimistic and “slippery slope” thinking, which depletes your emotional, mental and physical energy.

I’ll admit it: I am the poster child for perfectionism. Getting a low mark on a test instantly starts the descent into absurdum; a “Mom I’m failing (insert subject)” text gets sent, the bad taste of a mediocre mark sticks my teeth, and the waterworks get turned on at the dinner table, along with the “I’ll never get into university now” spiel.

But this is not healthy, not for me or for the countless other high schoolers in my position. At some level, I understand this, but it’s difficult to be immersed in an über-competitive environment and not fall prey to malicious, glass-half-empty thoughts. The only way to free us from the grips of perfection is to undo its spellbinding effects (which is easier said than done, as the concept of eudiamonia stems from early 300 BCE).

In order to solve the perfectionist’s dilemma, one must learn to let go. All the deprecating talk and despondent scenarios that immediately come to mind need to be replaced with praise and positive outlooks on life. Additionally, we need to learn to accept and embrace reality. I struggle with this a lot; it’s hard to ask high achieving students not to worry about their marks, because it does matter. Unfortunately, this “catastrophization” of little events have been proven to cause anxiety, which is linked to poor academic performance; continuing the domino effect of impending doom.

We’ve heard this time and time again, but it is important to not compare oneself to other people. This is the ultimate trap of perfection; the desire to beat others does not help one learn, mature, and improve. Your classmates’ inaccurate information amplified by that tiny voice at the back of your mind is damaging to your perspective and confidence. Mark Twain put it best, saying, “comparison is the death of joy”, and the science is on his side.

We need to change the paradigm. We cannot let our parents, teachers, and classmates dictate our lives. University admissions offices are not the be-all and end-all of our future. We need to shift from the “I, Robot” mentality to an “I, Work in Progress” one. Life, even in high school, needs to enjoyed and experienced (regardless how untrue that seems!). As George Orwell once said, “The essence of being human is that one does not seek perfection”.

Strive to be human.

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  1. Pingback: The Problem with Being a Pefectionist | The Raider Reality 15 May, 2015

    […] Read the rest of this post on The Prospect. […]

  2. Matthew Gutierrez on May 24, 2015

    Really good story. I thought of the quote, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

    Makes me think of Madison Holleran, a college student who took her life, in part because she was a perfectionist. Here it is:

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