I’ve been thinking about this for a while—perfectionism is not the ideal we should strive for. As cheesy as it sounds, it’s about the journey, not the destination. Or rather, it’s about what you learn in the process, not the final product (not really).
How this came about
A couple of weeks ago, I was helping a student to write an essay that was due very soon. She hadn’t even started the essay because she wanted an A, but didn’t think she could write something good enough for an A standard. This sounds very counter-productive, right?
She had so many good ideas that she could put in her essay. But rather than focusing on getting it done (which should have been the priority), she was so fixated on it being perfect.
It was so sad to see because she is so bright.
I’ve had to let it go
In my previous job in South Africa, I helped students with their assignments, research papers, and dissertations. The thing was, I only had an hour or two with a student at a time, and I had to focus on the most important things, i.e. structure and cohesion. Therefore, I could not get fixated on the awful language errors that I often saw. I helped where I could, but I couldn’t save everyone (or rather fix every mistake).
I think that’s one of the best lessons I have learnt so far. Just doing something is better than trying to do something perfectly.
I work at a school now, and I’ve seen that it’s better for a student to actively learn for 10 minutes in an hour-long lesson than learn nothing at all. Also, if the kid has a weird idea for an essay or assignment (except if it’s going to cause a lawsuit), let them go for it. As long as they are working, you can work with them.
Why is it a problem?
According to research, the number of people with perfectionistic tendencies is on the rise. I don’t know if this is true. From my experience, I’m only a perfectionist with some things, and with other things, I am the complete opposite. I wonder if other people are like that as well, and it skewed the results.
But I digress.
I think this rise in perfectionism is because of the instant satisfaction we experience in the modern world. If you want something like food, clothing, or attention, it’s only the push of a button away.
And I sound like an old lady.
Patience and determination
I think patience and grace with yourself are things you learn over the years. I learnt that the hard way over the years—some things are just not worth being perfectionistic about. It takes some wisdom to leave something for a while, think about it and come back to it.
I hate it when students say, ‘No, I can’t do it’ when they haven’t even tried. “Oh, why am I not good at this thing that I only just learnt?” I always sarcastically think to myself.
I also know that there’s a kid in every class that gets everything right the first time, and that sucks for everyone else. Life is unfair, but it builds character, discipline, and determination to sit and struggle with something because you will eventually get there.
You know what, I’d rather work with someone who is willing to struggle and put the hard work in and has a good attitude than with someone smart who has a shit attitude. The hard work ethic will get you way further in life.
Disclaimer: Hard work only gets you far if you know the right people; but fortune is more likely to smile on you if you are in the right place at the right time with the right work ethic and skills.
This is also why I believe it’s so important to build people (and students) up. I’m always saying “You can do it” (and sometimes I say it with this voice). It’s not the results always. It’s the guts and determination to try things because that’s how you learn.
No one is perfect and we can’t be, so let’s just have a go and learn stuff.