Do you always worry about your work being good enough? Do you always ask for feedback and ways to improve? Are you afraid of admitting mistakes or failures? Does rejection make you feel ashamed? Do you look for academic validation and base your work on prizes and high grades?
If so, nice to meet you, Mr/Ms Perfectionist.
Don't worry, it is not a disease. Being a perfectionist simply means you are someone who doesn’t accept any standard lower than perfection. Of course, there are different stages of perfectionism, but all of them include wanting to be the best all the time. The first type of perfectionism is called 'socially prescribed perfectionists'. They are very self-critical and feel immense pressure to be the greatest while worrying that others might judge or reject them. The 'other-oriented perfectionists' hold others to high standards and can be critical and judgemental. Finally, the 'self-oriented perfectionists' usually set high standards for themselves in their lives, but are able to achieve their goals using perfectionism as a motivation.
I myself was a self-oriented perfectionist. I always used to set high standards, and constantly create goals that I wasn't ready or able to achieve. Yes, these goals most certainly motivated me to improve and strive for high grades; but the cost for achieving them was a bit too high. I would not realize how tired I was, and how sometimes, I put so much effort that I ended up mixing up my priorities. I would get anxious and extremely upset at myself when the result wasn't as high as I expected. That was a stressful period that I gladly overcame.
On the other hand, being a perfectionist can bring positive outcomes to yourself and life. You hand in your top tier work, attain the highest grades, and receive awards or gain recognition can become a consequence of the great effort that has been put into your work. Wanting to be good motivates you to try your best all the time. However, the question is: are the costs worth all these positive outcomes? Is it really necessary to be more than excellent all the time?
On the other hand, being a perfectionist has several downsides. It makes you have unrealistic expectations, hoping to always be the best of the bests, and sometimes that doesn't happen. This makes you feel bad and you criticise yourself for something that is completely acceptable. Besides, if you want to be the best, most of the time you will do the possible and impossible for that, resulting in massive exhaustion, anxiety and in some extreme cases, even depression. Perfectionists never feel satisfied with their work, they always feel like they could do more. Because of that, they aren’t able to finish tasks, and one assignment gets in the way of another and the deadlines become a snowball. This ends your productivity, putting yourself completely off track.
More than that, perfectionism ruins your life. You get tired, anxious, you overthink, and constantly hope that you were good enough. Because of this,instead of enjoying your life, getting some sleep, going out of the house or socialising, you only focus on academics and being the best, in an unhealthy manner. It gets to the point where all you do is work all the time, hoping you are the greatest.
I ask you: are the costs really worth it?
Personally, I was not as extreme as many perfectionists I know. But to some extent I was searching for flawlessness. To overcome that, I had to realise that perfection does not exist. There is no such thing as being the perfect student because achieving high grades is not the only thing a student does. A student participates in class, engages with the school community, and manages to balance their school life with their personal life. I realised that I was comparing myself all the time, and I was too tired to continue, which was when I changed. Currently, I'm still someone who puts a massive effort into their work and gets tired with the amount of workload. But I know my limits, I know when to stop, and I learned my priorities when it comes to tasks.
One of my favourite quotes to beat perfectionism is ''Good is the Enemy of Great''. This one was directly written for all the perfectionists or the lazy ones out there. The concept in this quote is, never to strive for the good because that doesn't allow you to strive for the great. Some believe that achieving the good is fine enough. But if you are always looking for the good, you'll never realise that the great exists. Why be great if you're already good? However, at the same time, there are cases where being good is actually enough. You don't always have to be great, excellent, perfect. There are situations where being good is necessary, where you don't need to consume all your energy and effort to be perfect at. The key to finding these cases is prioritising your work.
Another great quote that impacts is ''The Master has failed more times than the Beginner has even tried''. The explanation behind this quote is that the “master” (someone who we desire to be), fails more times than the beginner has even tried. Meaning that, to be the “master”, you have to fail but continue trying, because this is how you achieve the top. The beginner is still at the start because he hasn't tried enough to fail, and so, still doesn't learn in the process.
The question is, how can I still be a good student but stop striving for perfection? Here are a few tips for you:
Focus. Don't allow yourself to get lost or distracted with having a perfect school assignment done. Focus on prioritising your school tasks, seeing which one has bigger importance, and then completing it based on that list. This way, you won't overload yourself with work.
Understand that nothing is perfect. There is always a way to improve; and if it's not in the school work, it's in the person doing it. Being a perfectionist can be considered a flaw if you see how much it affects you negatively!
Believe in yourself. Don't trick yourself into believing something could be better than it already is; you know what you are capable of, and you know your limitations! Trust the process.
Understand there is a limit and find the balance. This is key to improving quality of life as well. Spending hours in one single work is far past the limit, isn't it? Find a balance between resting, sleeping, going out, doing sports, and working. Spending too much time in one of these can have many negative effects.
Always do your best. This cliché is by far one of the wisest quotes ever. Doing your best doesn't mean being excellent all the time. It means doing what you are capable of, on the circumstances. This will help you achieve your goals in a realistic outline, without having high standards.
Be resilient. If one work is not good enough, move on to the next one!! One grade will not change your life or diminish your chances in college. Learn from your mistakes and on the next test, study more and learn from your mistakes.
Don't fear failure. The quote ''learn from your mistakes'' is one of the truest quotes ever written, because we always learn from past mistakes and remind ourselves of the error, to not repeat it the next time! It is okay to fail sometimes, we all learn by them. Failing is what makes us humans, and not robots or machines. Many new inventions have come from mistakes or after numerous trials and errors. Keep your eye on the prize and press forward!!
I'm definitely not telling you to stop trying to improve and grow. You should always aim to work better than you are expected, and always learn from previous mistakes. This is generally how you achieve a 7-8 strand in any assignment, by doing more than expected. However, accept your limits. Each individual is different, we all can handle things differently. Embrace your limits and stop when you are tired or can't handle something anymore, so you don't get to a level where you exhaust yourself and never stop, knowing you could always do more.
It may take a lot of time to transform perfectionism into a positive and healthy experience, but it's worth it. If you wish to enjoy life more, be more balanced, and stop carrying this tiring weight, it's time to stop striving for perfection. Walking away from perfectionism doesn't mean lowering standards, just means adapting your efforts and outcomes to your personal limit. This is the key to happiness ;)