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At our Principal’s Assembly this week, Mya (Year 11) spoke about the link between perfectionism and failure.
I believe that there are two types of failure. Firstly there is the constructive kind, you know the failure that teaches you, ‘Wow! Okay! I’m never going to study for a maths exam the night before again!’ There is growth in this failure. It makes you better at your study, your career, your relationships. This type of failure is what makes us human.
But this morning, I want to talk about another type of failure: the self-destructive type of failure that comes from a futile pursuit of perfection. To me, perfectionism and failure are inextricably linked, and not in a good way. See because perfectionism doesn’t help you grow, it doesn’t help you learn. Because by trying to be perfect, I can guarantee you will fail every time. This isn’t one of those situations where you can find a different path to perfection, or get back up and try again. I am telling you from personal experience, it will never happen.
As girls, I think we are really attached to this sort of self-sabotaging form of failure. As opposed to the failure that helps you grow and learn, we are too scared to be less than perfect, we don’t put ourselves outside of our comfort zones. So, by default, we fail.
The thing is with perfection, from the outside it can seem someone’s life is perfect, that they have got it all together, but as Dr Scott always says, you have no idea what is going on in their world, but I can tell you it’s not perfect.
In my own life, I have always had perfectionistic tendencies. In Year 7, in an attempt to get perfect grades, my social life suffered. I wasn’t a good friend and I prioritised the wrong things. Fast forward a year or so later, I had a girl in my year ask me, “How are you so perfect? You just have your whole life together.” Little did she know that I was seeing a psychologist twice a week, had been in hospital, and was incredibly unhappy!
You see, nothing will ever, ever be perfect, so by trying to achieve perfection, you are failing. This is exhausting and a waste of energy.
I wanted to share with you this morning two of the best pieces of advice I have probably ever received. Both come from my Dad.
Many years ago, my Dad was working on an important business negotiation and was heavily invested in ‘winning’. My Dad’s old boss told him the secret to good negotiation is to care… but not that much. You need to know when to walk away, when to move on to other projects that are more deserving of your time. You have to ‘care’ to get constructive things done, but ‘care’ too much – a search for perfection – and you won’t make the right trade-offs in life. This has basically been my Dad’s catch-phrase to me whenever I’m in a state of stress: “Care… but not that much.” You see life is long and complicated and not everything will go your way. You can kill yourself trying for something, but then make yourself incredibly unhappy when it doesn’t work. We need to have passions, we need to try hard, we need to care about things, but life is messy and caring too much takes away the enjoyment that we are meant to get from life.
The second piece of advice has been very useful to me in the past few weeks, when things have gotten incredibly busy. When my Dad was doing his MBA at Harvard (no pressure), he quickly worked out something that the professors had done in the course to teach the students an important lesson. The work was piled high for all of the students; my Dad was getting assignments, readings and essays left, right and centre. It seemed impossible; and it was. You see, the course had been designed so that there was no possible way you would be able to get all of the work done. The students had to prioritise, they couldn’t try and get everything perfect. I don’t know about you, but this would terrify me. But it has also been a very important lesson for me. They realised they couldn’t get everything done, and so directed their energy away from being perfect and into learning how to make trade-offs. I’m sure my Dad stuffed up many times, I’m sure he prioritised the wrong things or failed miserably on an assignment, but so has everyone and that’s life.
Now, Wenona is not Harvard, but it’s pretty close. We have got a School full of passionate, successful and driven girls. We need to wake up and realise that the pursuit of perfection is like running into a brick wall hoping to find an opening. It won’t happen and you will do more damage to yourself in the process. Rather than strive for perfection, strive for your personal best. Perfection means that your work is somehow never quite good enough. But by striving for your personal best, you can live a little while doing so.
Mya (Year 11)
Vice Head Prefect