Learning To Let Go: My Battle With Perfectionism
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Health and Wellness

Learning To Let Go: My Battle With Perfectionism

Because sometimes "good enough" really is good enough.

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Learning To Let Go: My Battle With Perfectionism
Jennifer Hartman, Ph.D.

I have been called a perfectionist by many people in my life: teachers, peers, colleagues… basically anyone who has seen me in a work environment. While they worry about my wellbeing, I take it as a compliment, however, “perfectionist” is a very difficult standard to uphold because we as human beings are not perfect, nor will we ever be.

Perfectionism, up to a certain extent, can be a beneficial trait to have. I love to organize, and pay great attention to detail. This has helped me tremendously in my leadership roles on campus, planning and executing events with my other chairs and officers. Perfectionism has its time and place, and is great when you can turn it off when you don’t need it.

Being a perfectionist is not so great when the off switch is lacking, when you don’t know how to let go when your best isn’t perfect. I compulsively take on responsibilities, forgetting to take time for myself. And once I commit to something, I want to give it 110 percent. And once I can’t I panic.

In high school I was so set on having honors on my diploma that I missed days of classes to retake my regents exams. I cried over a 91, because I was convinced it wasn’t good enough. I also spent hours on homework and studying each week to try to be ranked 20 instead of 21 in my graduating class. If I wasn’t top 20 with honors, I wasn’t good enough. Numbers were my measurement of self-worth, and this caused a lot of unnecessary stress.

I carried this need for perfection with me to college. Not only did I carry it with me, but I let it eat at me even more. My first semester at Nazareth, I hardly made any friends. I read my chapters over and over, fretting I wouldn’t be the most prepared student in my class. I didn’t know how to adjust to my new setting, other than wanting to be the best. This also led to control issues, feeling a constant need to manipulate those around me.

This escalated over the course of my first year. I switched majors and started joining clubs, but I still had a constant and irrational fear of not being good enough. By the end of the year I was stressed beyond belief, and even experienced a panic attack triggered by not being ahead on my work. I was absolutely blinded by the pressure I was putting on myself.

It wasn’t until I studied abroad that I was able to see how ridiculous I was being, like if I didn’t do everything right I would never move on to be successful and happy. I had a lot of downtime during my studies there, and learned how to let myself relax. I learned that education and learning are so much more than what memorizing a chapter or writing a cookie cutter paper could teach me.

While I still catch myself clinging to the ideal of perfection from time to time, I am training myself to let go of what I cannot do or control. Sometimes, a first draft also needs to be a final copy. Sometimes, an assignment has to be handed in a day late. Sometimes, a test is taken without any prep. This is not the end of the world, nor is it a measure of who I am as a person. Everything will be okay because it needs to be.

Last spring semester I was able to let go more than I ever have, doing what I needed to do to get by and taking lots of time to do what made me happy. As a result, I ended my semester with the highest GPA I’ve gotten since I began college. I was so proud to see that my best work really came when I took time to relax and be emotionally ready to do the things I needed to do.

While this is still a work in progress, I am proud of where I have come and where I am going from here. If you too are a struggling perfectionist, you are not alone. Make a list of what you can’t control or improve, and let those things go. Perfectionism can be a battle, but it’s a battle we can win. We don’t have to be perfect, we just have to be the best person we can be.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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