Usually, as we near the end of the year, I would write the same new year resolutions: study everyday, eat healthier, make new friends… you get the gist. Like most people, I find myself obsessed with more and of course, I fail every time. However, this isn’t a productivity article about putting your plans into action. I’ve been baited by hustle culture before, and I’ve learned the hard way that just working harder doesn’t magically solve everything.
There is nothing wrong with being an idealist. Yet, being an idealist AND a perfectionist can sometimes mean paralysis, where you procrastinate out of fear and anxiety of making mistakes and not being ‘good enough’. I, for one, have been plagued by this for years. While I procrastinated, I insisted on holding myself to a high standard of quality work, and ended up doing things last minute. Hundreds of nights haunt my dreams as I remember fuelling them with caffeine and adrenaline in a futile race against time. I would sacrifice my well-being for my academic goals, alongside juggling many other responsibilities. This year, I decided that something had to change: the desire for perfection was simply unsustainable. It repeatedly drove me to extreme after extreme, and the mask I was desperately hiding under had finally cracked. I was burnt out, bad. That was when I took on a different challenge, and embarked on my journey of doing less.
Firstly, I uncovered why I got stuck in the first place, and it all boiled down to the expectations that I burdened myself with. My quest for perfection didn’t just surround something as direct as getting straight A’s, but also the amount of work I set out to do. For each project and assignment, I would organise a checklist of tasks to be completed, except I wasn’t actually breaking work down at all. For example, I would overload myself with a wide variety of research which I would then try to summarise into short essays. Before I had even started on something, I was already creating additional, and oftentimes, unnecessary hurdles for myself. We normally hear about establishing boundaries with your bosses and coworkers but I had to learn to establish boundaries with myself.
I needed to consciously redefine and adapt success to my own limits. For me, giving up was just as difficult, if not more, than trying. Naturally, ‘what if’s haunt us all. After a long day, I would continue to toss and turn at night, wondering if I should have done more. I felt a constant need to be productive, and would berate myself even for the brief breaks I took. Needless to say, it’s clear how deeply I associated my productivity with my worth. I was undeserving of rest and relaxation, if I felt like I hadn’t earned it. Before I could accept that there was only so much I could do, I had to start on accepting myself.
Other than self-acceptance and validation, I strived to value success in different shapes and forms. Whether it be sleeping an additional hour, or getting one more MCQ right, I tried to cherish each and every win that showed my efforts to improve as a person. Success is a long and unpredictable journey, rather than a clear destination. It is unrealistic to expect to hit homerun every time, especially when you’re facing a new obstacle. Rather than working myself to the bone, I decided to patiently trust that my time will come.
The habit of perfection is tough to break because of the security and comfort it offers but again, growth is an ongoing process. If you relate to my journey, I hope that this article provides you with the reassurance that some things have to fall apart so that better things can fall into place.