The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
Do you ever feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders? Do you feel like the tasks that you have to complete are endless? Do thoughts of what you have to do, how you are going to do it, and when you have to do it never seem to slow down? If you answered “yes” to one or more of these questions, then chances are you are just like me. My article for this week is going to be a little different. I am doing the universe a favor by welcoming the world of digital literary readers into my mind and slightly opening up about the stresses that I face daily with perfectionism and feeling the need to always be Superwoman. Interestingly enough, at this very moment that I am writing this article, I am fighting the overachieving-perfectionist urge to go on a mental rampage about a group project that has yet to go the way that I want it to go. Therefore, when is a better moment to write about the downsides of anxiety and stress that come with being an overachieving- perfectionist than when I am actually living out my overachieving- perfectionist ways.
Moving on to why you are reading this article, I began facing most of my issues with perfection and feeling the need to do everything right the first time as soon as this Fall 2021 semester began. It is my first semester taking in-person college classes on campus. No one prepares you for your first semester of in-person college classes after a long quarantine. No one prepares you for hands-on college life after spending a year and a half at home taking virtual classes that drain you by the second. Not to mention that the work was much less time-consuming and was leniently graded. If we’re being honest, the graduating class of 2024 was impacted in a significant way by quarantine: we had the second semester of our senior year interrupted, missed valuable lessons, experienced a minimized and simplified freshmen year of college, and now all of a sudden we are dropped off on campus as sophomores, having to carry a heavy load with little experience on how to do so while physically at school. I could be the only one that feels this way. Still, either way, I was never equipped with the tools needed to avoid falling into unhealthy habits fostered by the idea that perfection is the only way and not productive unless I complete all my tasks at once.
I have made slight mentions of my struggles with being a perfectionist while in college, but I would like to delve into more detail. Many of us feel that nothing we do is satisfying or worthy if it is not done according to certain standards, whether our own, our teachers, peers, or the general society. Usually, if the standards we seek to meet are our own, we become our worst critics, even if the standards are unrealistic. I struggle with this a lot. Often, I strive to do things a specific way, so much that if I fall off track slightly, I nag myself about how I failed to do it within the perfect time frame, using the perfect method, set by the perfect plan. Though I always get the task done and rarely experience consequences that negatively impact my grade, I stress so much about the outcome, which causes me to become weary during the process, hindering my motivation and confidence.
Moreover, the anxiety that results from perfectionism causes an inability to see the light at the end of the tunnel until you are actually at the end. Never mind the fact that you could receive an A on the project, but let’s focus on the fact you could have worded this paragraph better, or you did not use a particular word to sound more sophisticated. It’s not until you actually receive the A, or even B, until you are like, “Oh, I actually did do good.” It is as if you are lacking the belief and faith in yourself that says, “you and your work ethic are enough; you’re not perfect, but you’re enough.” Setting the standard for yourself that says you have to do everything perfectly is toxic to your mental health, self-esteem, motivation, and your entire sense of sanity. I often drive myself crazy obsessing over the outcome, that I become stressed out through every step of the process, and if I’m not stressing over the outcome, then you better believe that all of my worries are focused on the process. Those of us who struggle with perfectionism must take the time to trust the process. As long as we follow all the steps necessary to complete the task and put our best effort forward, the outcome should be nothing less than successful and deserving. College is already tedious enough, so being a perfectionist will only get you so far until you reach your breaking point…believe me.
It would be a good time to bring in the overachieving aspect of being a perfectionist. When many of us were younger, our teachers would push us to strive for nothing but the best, stay on our toes and be the one who stands out from the rest by doing more and never less. However, why did they never tell us that sometimes, less is more in college? And hear me out for a second before you cancel me for promoting laziness and underachievement because I know how you girls like to tussle (Tik Tok reference). What I mean is that when you try to strive to do everything at once, then you will find yourself carrying an overload of stress and falling victim to burnout. At the beginning of the semester, I thought I had it all figured out. I thought the best way to tackle a typical in-person semester was to treat it as if I was still online by striving to get my assignments done on the same day they were given. I would try to push myself to get five or six tasks completed in a span of five hours, often leaving me doing work until 8 p.m. Though doing work until 8 p.m. may seem normal to some people, it left me feeling drained. I forced myself to do school work for longer than I was used to and was mentally equipped to do it. I had no time for myself, God, friends, family, or boyfriend. I was becoming so consumed by my academics to the point where they caused daily stress and anxiety that weighed on me emotionally and physically. I believed that I had to do so much in one day to be productive. In my eyes, taking breaks and separating big tasks into little ones were unacceptable- I had to do it all, all at once. However, I am learning that completing a task is not the only way to be productive, but the time and effort put into completing the assignment matters just as much, if not more, than the outcome.
Honestly, being an overachieving perfectionist can be both a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that the chance of you failing to complete an assignment or doing an assignment with a lack of effort is slim to none. While, the curse is that at times, we find ourselves getting caught up in not making any mistakes and in the belief that our academic success, and even worth as a person, is determined by one test, one paper or, one project. Also, we unhealthily push ourselves past our limits. Perfectionism can become intertwined with overthinking, stress, and sometimes even low self-esteem. However, these outcomes don’t have to be your means to an end.
Over the course of the semester, I found ways to manage stress, and anxiety of college, triggered by my urges to be perfect and the highest achiever in everything. I had to cut myself some slack. I learned that it is okay to complete a task in steps or phases, but the key is to have patience, motivation, hope, and perseverance. It helps to use a calendar to write due dates and the two or three tasks that you plan to accomplish for each day that week. Once you accomplish a step or the whole task, please do yourself a favor and mark it off. This is the best feeling in the world for me. It helps to physically see all the things you had to do and the complete things you’ve accomplished.
Moreover, time yourself when doing something you don’t want to do but have to do. The win/win is that you are slowly but surely accomplishing it without spending so much time on it that you could lose interest or motivation to do it. You avoid the risk of continuing to work on it but not putting your best effort forward due to a loss of attention span or burnout. Lastly, be sure to give yourself some time to reflect and destress. Say your affirmations, listen to music, take a walk, call a loved one, pray, or journal when you start to feel the negative impact of trying to be a perfectionist and trying to do everything at once. Of course, I do not have all the answers, as I still struggle with staying consistent in these things, but it has helped me and could help you as well.
It’s been a tough semester and transition for myself and others, I’m sure. Don’t let the process discourage you, and don’t allow your worries about the outcome to distract you from the process. Writing this article has been great therapy in dealing with the anxieties that I am experiencing now due to my perfectionist nature, and I hope that this article will help you as much as it has helped me. Don’t let your inner doubt or worries hinder you from being the best you can be. Do not let it define you, whatever assignment or tasks you are putting off, because you are worried about not doing it right or not getting a good grade. All you have to do is start it in whatever way that is relevant to the process, and you’ll begin to see some sort of light at the end of the tunnel.