Working past our perfectionism
Jimmy Kemper | Thursday, April 14, 2016
Let’s talk about perfectionism.
Perfectionism is an attitude that many of us at this university are familiar with. Sometimes, it can be good for our work. It can help motivate us to put every ounce of effort into a paper to make it the best paper possible. Other times, it can be bad. It has the potential to paralyze us, stopping us from even getting that paper started because we’ve set such high expectations for ourselves. And then when that paper doesn’t go well, we take that attitude and put even more pressure and higher expectations on ourselves for the next one, because we have to recover and prove that we’re great students, creating a downward spiral of fear and anxiety that consumes our lives.
When we take up the mantle of perfectionism, we’re not being fair to ourselves. It’s not respectful to the person we are, because we’re so much more than our grades. None of us are perfect, and by placing such expectations on ourselves, we’re isolating ourselves from our peers who experience the same struggles as us in our classwork. We, as students, need to let go of this perfectionism that can have such a toxic and devastating effect on our academic lives.
So how do we break this habit of perfectionism?
Sometimes, it’s just as simple as breaking the rules we’ve set up for ourselves. By letting go of the habits of perfectionism, we can come to realize both the pettiness of this mentality and our ability to make meaningful changes to toxic lifestyles.
Other times, It’s about recognizning the opportunities and gifts that we’ve been given, and being thankful for them, rather than being consumed by anxiety about them. Gratitude is pivotal in shifting away from an attitude of perfectionism toward one of acceptance.
The best thing we can do, though, is reach out. As perfectionists, sometimes we feel that we shouldn’t be asking for help and that we can handle it on our own. But whether it’s a friend, a parent or a counselor at St. Liam’s, letting someone know about our struggles gives us the opportunity to rely upon a network of people who care about us and truly wish to help us make things better.
Talking to others is also important for developing shame resilience. Letting the moments of shame that our perfectionism creates dominate our lives isn’t fair, and by exposing our fears, weaknesses and anxieties to our loved ones we take the first step in letting go of that shame.
Perfectionism can have an incredibly negative impact on our lives. But it doesn’t have to. By breaking our habits, reframing our attitude and seeking out help, we can become more present in our lives and take full advantage of and find greater joy in the opportunities we have at this University.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.