The Challenge of Perfectionism
Wellbeing Captain Lily shares her learning on how to overcome unattainable expectations.
Perfectionism, the refusal to accept anything short of perfection.
Throughout my years in high school, perfectionism has played a really big role in every aspect of my life. From my music, my running, my academics, my presentation of myself to the world, everything had to be perfect. And it came to a point where perfection in every aspect of my life was not only unrealistic, but damaging. I realised that I was not going to be able to continue doing the things I loved if I kept holding on to these unattainable expectations. So, I want to talk a little bit about what perfectionism has looked like in my story over the past five years.
I love to run, and I’ve been competing in competitions for pretty much my whole life. In Year 7, I made it to State level for Cross Country and I was super, super proud of my achievement. I remember setting myself a goal for the next year, to make it to National level. But I got injured that year and ended up having to take a break from sport for the better part of the next two years. It really set me back. I’d built my identity around being the ‘runner’ and suddenly that was gone.
When I came back to running in Year 10 and quickly realised that I probably was not ever going to make it to State level again, I became extremely unmotivated, struggling to rediscover my passion. But with a bit of encouragement from my family and some friends, I re-evaluated why I wanted to run in the first place. I remembered that I ran because I loved it, not because winning mattered. And now I am happy in the knowledge that every time I run, I run because I enjoy it, because it relieves stress, and because it makes me feel good about myself, but mostly because I no longer feel obligated to meet any preconceived expectations to find a sense of achievement and worth.
Another aspect of my perfectionism revealed itself in my academic life. My need to achieve perfection was so engrained that I began to think those around me shared similar expectations of me. I told myself that if I didn’t get top marks or close to, I would disappoint my family. This caused me to spiral into the vicious cycle of perfectionism even further, developing unhealthy habits like studying very late every night and no longer engaging socially with my friends and family. I didn’t think I had any time to leave for myself. But, when I saw the positive reactions of those I loved around me when I did not meet my expectations, I came to learn that all they wanted from me was to try my hardest, and that the rest didn’t matter.
Perfectionism never goes away for me. It’s always there, but it no longer controls my life. Now, when I feel pressure or stress, I force myself to step back and gain a wider perspective. I talk to my family about what worries me and the simple act of confiding in them takes some of the strain off. They may not be able to help me integrate exponentials or logarithms, but they can definitely make me feel more confident in my path ahead. I make sure to take time for myself, to rest, and get a good night’s sleep because I know I do my best work when my mind is clear. There are days when I really struggle with those unrealistic goals, but I have accepted that it is a part of my story, and that there is nothing wrong with that.
Lily, Year 12
Wellbeing Captain 2021/2022