Perfectionism provides a sense of control, but the dissatisfying practice offers a less than perfect reality. The American Psychological Association defines perfectionism as, “the tendency to demand of others or oneself an extremely high or even flawless level of performance, in excess of what is required by the situation. It is associated with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and other mental health problems.”
Scientists at York University used the pandemic as a controlled environment to observe perfectionism, a mentality dependent on the individual’s life. The study found that perfectionism has increased as a result of the loss of control over one’s life due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For some, the increased need to be perfect exists in many different facets of their lives.
A critical sector in some people’s perfectionism is school. Perfectionism at school might include obsessing over doing well on tests and exams, needing to do well in a class overall, or getting the highest Grade Point Average. The “perfectionism pandemic,” as the study called it, is connected to independent schools across the country, and is prevalent at St. Paul Academy and Summit School.
In competitive school environments, it is often forgotten that the greatest learning comes in moments of uncertainty: not knowing the answer. It’s imperfect and that’s the point. Self-worth should never be wrapped up in a GPA or nailing a test. Grades are only one piece of the conversation around academic success or understanding.
Although perfectionism may temporarily help students to achieve their academic goals, they must recognize that there is a line when it comes to perfectionism, and when they have crossed it. Crossing the line can mean beginning to criticize yourself or constantly being dissatisfied with your performance to an unhealthy degree.
The drive to be perfect in school creates burnout for many students. Working extremely hard is typically encouraged at SPA by both teachers and parents, but the burnout it causes is harmful to students. Scientists have found that burnout from school can cause depression among students, as well as several other negative side effects. The need to be perfect can cause students not to pursue something they enjoy if they are not good at it, which is partially caused by parents encouraging their kids to focus only on what they receive the highest grades in or the most awards at; but the longest resume or college application does not reflect success.
Another facet where perfectionism exists is social media. On social media, perfectionism is amplified. In school students are trying to be perfect, but on social media, people are only trying to seem perfect, which contributes to the perfectionistic tendencies of others. Social media, with its host of perfectly posed pictures and vacation photos, has been shown to negatively impact mental health, especially for teens and specifically for people who deal with perfectionism and anxiety.
Letting go of perfectionism can be hard; it requires a rewriting of behaviors that impact psychology and self worth, but spring break offers students the opportunity to reflect on their perfectionistic tendencies and take steps to begin a healthier approach. Spring break can be a time to reflect on why it is important to you to be perfect. Social media can be triggering, and if it negatively affects you, take a break during the two weeks off of school. Instead of trying to seem perfect to your peers, whether academically or through social media, take spring break to be your authentic self instead.