Imagine the following situation: you’re in your dorm room, staring at a book or computer, trying to get one last bit of reading done before you go to bed. You think about the reading, plus the paper you have due next week, that test you still have to study for and all the people you promised yourself last week that you’d call and text to hang out “sometime soon.” And what if you have a job, an important position in a club or some other kind of activity or production that you are committed to? What about all the other commitments that come up as a result of life in general? You think about everything you have to do and compare it to everything you would accomplish in an ideal. You think about people’s angry reactions to your imagined failures. As a result, fear and guilt ensue. Am I going to mess up my term paper like last time? Are my friends mad at me right now? Am I doing a good job with my part? Am I a terrible person? Why can’t I do all these things right?
If you can imagine this situation, or relate to even half of these concerns, then you’ve got some idea of what I go through nearly every day. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a tendency towards perfectionism. It’s not entirely cured yet, but I’m a lot better now than I used to be. I know midterms and the weeks that follow them are difficult for almost everyone, and that stress can lead to a degradation of physical and mental health, both of which I do my best to avoid, especially considering my past experiences. In the middle of midterms last semester, I experienced a personal loss while I was pretty sick. That death is still hard for me to talk about. Weeks after midterms were over, I was still not over this loss, and I found myself experiencing bouts of great sadness and anger as I struggled with academics, extracurricular commitments and relationships, wondering whether I would ever be good enough at anything or for anyone.
Fast forward to the following semester. Midterms are over, and I’m sitting in front of a computer, thinking about the papers I have to write, the people I should call and whether people are actually going to like the article I’m writing. Even with the praise I’ve received about my writing, I still feel insecure about it, perhaps more so than I should. But I choose to put aside the insecurity and high-level stress because the unreachable standards that I set out for myself in the past will not make my present or my future any better. Every day I think about how lucky I am to be able to study and do what I love, surrounded by people that truly care about me, and I realize that there is no need to overwork myself due to unjust, useless comparisons that I have invented myself. Trying to reach standards that are both unhealthy and unrealistic will only get us further from who we really want to be, and while I may still overstress sometimes, I won’t let myself get so damaged by perfectionism ever again.