Stop Striving After Perfection
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Health and Wellness

The Word 'Perfect' Is Ruining Our Mental And Physical Health, It's Time See It For The Myth It Really Is

Perfection is a lot of things. Most of all, it's not real.


Working with young people is a surefire way to make you reevaluate not only the way you were raised, but the way future generations are being raised and the very tiny but significant impact that everything you do and say has on them. Most of the time, this is a hopeful sentiment. It means we get to actually have a say in the way a child grows up and we have a real, tangible impact on the future. We can teach them things like kindness and love and respect (and how to say "please" and "thank you.") But with that comes the realization that we can also negatively impact their lives based on what we do and say. We can impart our baggage on them and our warped views of the world into a mind that has little to no concept of it yet.

There have been moments in my time working with children when the words of other older folks around them is glaringly problematic – like when one of my peers is talking about dieting and counting calories in front of a young girl who will very easily (and quickly) learn that watching what she eats and what she weighs is a burden she will be expected to carry for her entire existence as a woman. Or when a girl mentions another girl who has two dads or two moms and one of my peers tells her that we don't talk about things like that here or quickly tries to change the subject. Unfortunately, there isn't really a shortage of these accidental slip-ups. Some of them roll off the backs of young people. But some of them don't.

But the baggage creeps in, even when we try to be hypervigilant of keeping it out. I noticed this in myself this summer when I would compliment a girl for doing something with the word "perfect." If she hit the target at archery, I would say, "Perfect!" If we were filling out a worksheet and she gave me a really strong answer, I would say, "That's perfect." Even when I was taking their temperatures at the start of the week, after reading a number that signaled healthy, I would say, "Perfect. You can go out with your group." Obviously, I made these comments with the best of intentions. But that word is so heavy and I didn't even realize until about halfway through the summer how much is packed into it that I was putting into these girls' minds.

Here's the problem. I don't think telling a girl that her hitting the target is perfect is that destructive of a comment in and of itself. If I had said, "Great job!" or "Beautiful!" then it wouldn't have raised any concern within me. But what I don't want (and what I know can happen) is a girl growing up, thinking back to all the times she accomplished something and associating it with "perfection." What I don't want is her going into her teenage years holding that word "perfect" as the ultimate goal, doing anything and everything to attain it in every area of her life. We all know where that ends. And it's not a pretty place.

Realistically, I think a lot of the times when I had thrown around that word, the girls didn't give it a second thought. But I also know that sometimes we don't realize how much the little things from our childhood become the big things in our adulthood until it's too late.

Perfection is a lot of things. Most of all, it's a myth.

A toxic myth that a lot of us grew up idolizing and chasing after at the expense of our health and happiness. It's the root of a lot of the problems facing young people today. If we want to combat these problems and allow children to focus on the things that matter – happiness, kindness, love – we have to remove the word from our vocabularies. Especially when congratulating them on their achievements.

There's a quote that I really like by John Steinbeck that says, "And now that you don't have to be perfect, you can be good." May we raise a generation of young people that aim to be the latter.

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