The Best Advice I Have Heard At Notre Dame—“Perfection is BS”

Last week, I was sitting in my theology class (Nuptial Mystery with Prof. O’Malley, in case you need a second theo) and we were preparing for our second exam. He started the discussion with logistics about office hours and review sessions, but then the tone suddenly shifted. He got the attention of the auditorium by stating that he was going to give us some advice on how to do well on the second exam and debunk one of the greatest myths we have been taught all in one statement. The next thing he said caught me off guard in a refreshing way, “Perfection is bullshit. Simply delight in knowing something.” Professor O’Malley continued to explain that we come to this university to learn, so our goals should be focused on that rather than bumping that 89% to a 90%. By shifting our focus to how we can gain knowledge of a concept rather than memorizing what is needed for an A on a test, a true understanding of the material will be developed—which should be apparent on an exam. 

Throughout my life, I have heard many variations of “nobody’s perfect,” whether it be from my parents, coaches or Hannah Montana’s 2006 bop; and I am well aware that I am not perfect. So, why do I hold myself to this standard of perfection when it comes to school? It was so reassuring to hear a professor tell his class that we should not aim for perfection, but rather aim to actually understand what we were learning. I realized that most of my stress about school stemmed from my goals of getting high grades, while the majority of disappointment I experience is due to the fact that my grades aren’t high enough. I am not trying to undermine the importance of setting goals for academic success, but I think it is equally important to dig deeper and set mindful goals when it comes to grades. 



After doing some self-reflection, I discovered that the reason Professor O’Malley’s advice was so insightful for me is that I have been unknowingly following it for only half of my classes. I am a double major in Marketing and Film, and sometimes I feel as if I use two completely different brains when studying for each major’s respective classes. In my film classes, I show up ready and motivated to learn because I truly enjoy it. I rarely overthink the grades I receive because I view them as indicators of what to improve on and am genuinely excited to work on that growth. In my business classes, however, my mindset shifts—I become so grade-oriented and am always stressed about exams. Very rarely am I in the mindset to learn for the fun of it, and I view average test grades in a glass-half-empty type of way. Instead of being motivated to improve my knowledge of the material, I find myself discouraged and less confident going forward. 



Although Professor O’Malley’s advice was aimed to calm the nerves of his students, his point holds true across a variety of situations. For me, it has helped me in my other classes because I set my focus on gaining knowledge rather than getting 100% on everything. I also think that this piece of advice will be useful in how I set goals for myself because it makes me consider the process of achieving my goals rather than just the desired outcome. So the next time you are sitting in class or feeling stressed about how you’ll do on an exam, just remember, “Perfection is bullshit. Simply delight in knowing something.” 



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