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The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UCSB chapter.

We all aim to excel here at school — not only at academics, but at our own personal goals. Achieving these goals inherently raises our self-esteem and confidence, because after all, it’s rewarding to see how all of our efforts have amounted to something worth celebrating. However, when things don’t turn out the way we want them to, it can be incredibly discouraging and even heartbreaking. Striving toward perfection can be a great motivator at times, but it can just as easily create more unnecessary stress and lead to unhealthy mindsets and behaviors.

Take it from me — I have constantly strived for perfection in many areas of my life, such as sports, school, and even in social contexts. I exert a lot of energy in trying to ensure everything I do meets my own standards—or at least, ensuring that I appear perfect. Making mistakes is something I go at lengths to avoid, and sometimes, this fear of failure manifests as procrastination. For students especially, some tasks can be so daunting and overwhelming that we often push them aside for the last minute in order to temporarily relieve some of our stress. It’s the “out of sight, out of mind” kind of thing where if I ignore it, then the anxiety will magically disappear (it doesn’t).

Even as I’m writing this article, I’m cutting it extremely close to the deadline, which has become a bad habit of mine throughout these school quarters. Constantly putting off my work tends to inflate my perfectionistic tendencies and exacerbates the initial worry I had surrounding the task at hand. I start rushing to meet the deadline, and as a result, I turn in work that doesn’t match or exceed the high expectations I set for myself.

I could’ve done better, I’d think to myself as I reread my essay for the fiftieth time, this isn’t the best I can do. When I share my work with others, however, it’s usually met with positive feedback, though in my eyes it’s never good enough. Being highly critical of my abilities has always been a persistent struggle, and while I’m aware that I’m being too harsh on myself, it’s difficult to break out of that mindset when it’s seemingly engraved in me.

On a similar note, our perfectionism can root from the way we tie our self-worth to our achievements. Searching for validation through external accomplishments just keeps adding fuel to the fire, and to make matters worse, we live in a culture that emphasizes success while claiming any sign of failure as an inherent weakness.

According to The Guardian, Thomas Curran — a researcher who wrote a report on perfectionism for the Psychological Bulletin — believes neoliberalism is partly to blame, as he said it’s “a marketized form of competition [that] has pushed young people to focus on their achievements.” We chase after these unrealistic standards to avoid criticism from these institutionalized pressures, and when all doesn’t go according to plan, we fall back on self-deprecation that only hurts our mental health and self-esteem. We pick ourselves apart as a form of self-punishment, and feelings of shame and guilt are bound to grow in intensity.

In addition, our social environments play another role in the development of this kind of mindset, as the three main types of perfectionism that Curran developed — self-oriented, other-oriented, and socially prescribed — all revolve around attaining value and acceptance through the people around us. This is especially notable at school in regards to how competitive we can be, especially when we often compare our grades, jobs, and even our social lives with others. I know I’m guilty of being a mixture of some of these perfectionist types, especially since I have social anxiety and I’m always hyper-aware of how people act around me.

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/ Unsplash

As research demonstrates, perfectionism can be incredibly damaging to one’s mental health. Whenever I find myself creating impossible standards with my assignments or criticizing how I act in social situations, I remember that there’s no one here to condemn me for my faults — and if there is, then that’s their problem, not mine. Now, I’ve become less fixated on how others might perceive me, and instead of viewing each conversation as a critical evaluation, I look at it as a chance to connect with others.

Becoming more aware of my fears surrounding failure and judgment helps me better understand the root of my own behaviors. When I note how irrational some of these anxieties are, I can finally relax and be more gentle with myself. No one is perfect, despite some of our best efforts to be; this thought alone can quell the perfectionist worries that many of us face, but many of us can conquer.

Sofia is a third-year Writing & Literature major at UCSB. In her free time, she enjoys watching anime, playing video games, and drinking chai tea.