Image: Unsplash
Image: Unsplash

The challenges of being a perfectionist

 I am currently in my third year at university and the past two and a half years have been absolutely brilliant. I have been studying a course that I love, made so many friends and have made amazing memories. Although it has been an incredible experience till date, it has also been extremely challenging at times, some of these challenges the result of me being a perfectionist. This article discusses the ways that being a perfectionist has been harmful for me and what I have done about this.

One way in which I have been a perfectionist is when it has come to my academic studies. In school and sixth form, I have always been quite a high achieving student, and I wanted to make sure that this carried on whilst at university. Whilst it wasn’t a bad idea setting myself high targets, it sometimes got to the stage where I would spend more time than necessary in ensuring that every answer in every assignment was word to word perfect. I would usually write up assignments completely from scratch if I found even small errors. Furthermore, after exams I would be overly critical of any mistakes I made, I had the attitude that it would be the end of the world if I didn’t score a first in every exam. This has led me to worry about the small things concerning my degree more often than was required, which caused a lot of unnecessary stress.

I would usually write up assignments completely from scratch if I found even small errors

A lot of the time, being a perfectionist at university is academic related, especially at a university like Warwick where standards are exceptionally high. However, I have also in the past set myself unrealistic expectations when it has come to getting involved in university life. I have taken part in various societies and have even taken up three different committee positions, all of which have helped me develop a range of skills. However, in my first and second year at university, I used to beat myself up whenever I missed a society event, even if I had a valid reason.  Setting unrealistic expectations on how many extra-curricular activities I should do in a given week has led me to sometimes take on too much at once, leading to the problem of a burnout. It is worth remembering that terms at university are around 10 weeks, and it is very easy to burnout in week 5 if you are not careful.

Although I have still made sure I have aimed high and remained ambitious with the targets that I set, here are two main things that I have done to overcome being a perfectionist and ensure that my targets and goals are kept realistic.

1. Share my progress with others – Recently, I have sent a weekly review to a few of my close friends on what went well in the week, what could have gone better and aims for the next week. This is something that I would highly recommend for anyone to do, and this has had two massive benefits for me.
Firstly, by reflecting on things which didn’t go so well and mistakes I have made, I have been able to gain an appreciation of the fact that things won’t always go perfectly, and that’s OK. Secondly, I have been able to get opinions by other people on whether my targets are realistic and whether I am being too harsh on myself when things haven’t gone to plan.

2. Constantly reminding myself of the bigger picture – Being a perfectionist can sometimes mean that you can get hung up over very small details, and this can prevent you from looking at the bigger picture. For example, I used to spend too much time on perfecting assignments that were only 2% of the module without realising that this won’t have much of a big impact on my mark for that module, never mind on my degree. Now, whenever I make a mistake or am stressed about something, I ask myself “Will this matter in 2 years’ time”. If the answer is no, then it is not worth wasting tonnes of energy stressing about it. Being able to look at the big picture has allowed me to maintain focus of the things that are important and not stress over every small thing.

Remember that aiming high and setting ambitious targets is not at all a bad thing, and it is something that I would highly encourage! But remember to be realistic and set goals which are achievable, as setting yourself unrealistic targets and trying to be too perfect all the time can be unhealthy for your mental health in the long run.

 

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