A Letter to the Side of Me that Wants to be Perfect

To the side of me that wants to be perfect,

I know it shocks you that I’m addressing you with that title. From your point of view, the idea of being a perfectionist seems impossible and almost laughable. You try to assure me that you don’t desire to be flawless because you recognize and accept your flaws. You reason that those who are labeled as "perfectionists" are the types of people who must get an A in everything.

Unlike them, you have never tried to get all A's in your courses. You don’t aim to get every single question on an exam right, and you don’t expect to get top marks on your papers. You also acknowledge your non-academic imperfections. For example, when you do things like sing in Recital Choir, you know that there’s a good chance your voice will crack and some of the notes will be off-key. You insist that you recognize these flaws because they’re what makes you human. In other words, you don’t aim to be perfect in every way because that’s unrealistic. And I agree with you—attaining perfection is impossible. Somehow, though, you’re still a perfectionist.

You need to understand that recognizing your limitations doesn't mean you’re immune to wanting to be perfect. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. For example, can you honestly tell me that you'd be at peace with yourself if you bombed your midterm exam next week? Indeed, you would recognize that you can’t excel at everything, but you’d still be upset and disappointed. That feeling would be difficult for you to overcome; you’d start to doubt your academic capabilities altogether, and fear that your professor would view you as unintelligent and incompetent. These responses sound dramatic, but I know that you've reacted that way to your blunders for years now. You must acknowledge that accepting your mistakes is a difficult task for you, since you obviously strive to do everything to the best of your ability. While you don’t aim for perfection, you want to get as close to it as possible. Your desire to accomplish only your best is your downfall, and it’s what classifies you as a perfectionist.

Now, don’t get me wrong—wanting to do your best is not inherently a bad thing. Your desire to put time and effort into your work shows that you have drive and motivation. There is a difference, however, between showing that you’re motivated to do your best and being driven to the extreme. You can show that you’re determined to work hard in a course, for instance, without studying every single detail in a textbook—understanding the overall concepts and being able to apply them in context is enough. Unfortunately, you're often driven to do so by the fear that you might miss a question on the exam because you didn’t learn that one obscure detail by heart. You're driving yourself crazy with this kind of thinking, and you're making things harder for yourself by giving in to your desire to be perfect.

It’s time for you to realize that perfectionists are hardly people who strive to do everything flawlessly. They're also people who cause themselves massive amounts of anxiety and stress over wanting to do everything to the best of their ability. By all means, continue to be ambitious, motivated and driven, but please don’t sacrifice your happiness for the sake of attempting to go beyond what's possible. Aspire to be the best version of yourself, rather than "perfect"—that should be your goal.

Much love,

Me

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