Perfectionism Is My Downfall

At my core, I am a worrier. I catastrophize every situation under the sun until I can no longer tell my reality from my nightmare. In order to assuage some of my deepest concerns about the decisions that I make or the grades I receive, I often strive for perfectionism. However, this mentality is unsustainable and results in academic and emotional burnout. After this realization, I am working hard to organize and address my priorities, as I know that I will be much more successful if I work towards achievable goals instead of impossible expectations. 

Midterms always exacerbate my stress and my desire for perfectionism. They do so because they are an intensification of my fears, and while I know that in the grand scheme of things my midterm comments from my teachers during one term of one year of high school do not actually matter that much, I cannot help but fear for the worst. This whole week, and the week before this, and likely after, I will be worrying about whether or not my midterm grades will live up to my expectations. I will fret over the endless to-do lists and countless assignments that have yet to be completed. And for the first time, I cannot disregard my mistakes as lowerclassmen errors; now, they actually matter. 

I always feel like I am not doing enough. One of the biggest problems with this line of thinking is that it is extremely unsustainable. I cannot be perfect forever; I cannot healthily maintain a mindset in which I lose all self-confidence if I don’t perform well. I will fail, I will fall on my face, and I may not be able to get up for a while because I won’t be able to handle the stress I have put myself under. Frankly, it’s destructive behavior: because my success feels existential, because my self-confidence and self-worth are so dependent on it, the defeats I face feel enormous and daunting.

Only recently did I realize the problem with my mindset.  Endless perfectionism was making me numb to the things I enjoyed, and made me feel less satisfied with my life and accomplishments as a result. Instead of finding learning experiences within my mistakes, I was encountering more and more reasons to strive for this kind of unhealthy perfection. Last week, I finally realized that this perfection was impossible, when I found myself thinking, “Why are my notoriously difficult classes actually hard?” I was drowning in my work, and I felt myself losing passion and feeling for learning. As a person who felt like perfectionism was the only source of success, this feeling of emotional numbness to failure was shocking. I felt myself getting more burnt out by the second. Essentially, coming into Upper Year expecting perfection was the patently wrong mentality. There is just no way that I can give 110 percent to every assignment. 

All of this is to tell new and returning students alike who need a mental reboot: don’t sell your soul for perfection. It isn’t worth it. This is not meant to disillusion you from a bright future or lofty goals—but take yourself a little less seriously. I know it can be hard—it is Andover, after all—but it’s worth it.

I wish that I had spent more time appreciating my accomplishments and learning from my mistakes. I wish that I had given myself room to fail instead of obsessing over a typo in my English paper that I can almost guarantee my teacher didn’t notice. To constrict myself to such an extent that I found school unenjoyable is a problem I have decided to address, and to change my behavior to make my Upper Year more positive. I want to spend more time on things that I enjoy, find lessons in my mistakes, and appreciate the experience that failure gives me. I want to be successful, but if I carry the weight of the world on my shoulders, I will be crushed by it all. I’m trying to remind myself of that lesson, and you should, too.

Yes, midterms are my nightmare. But instead of trying to create a false sense of perfection, I will work harder to be honest with myself. That mindset is crucial so that I don’t burn out or accidentally gear myself towards failure. My takeaway from the last two years at Andover is this: work hard, do what you want, but always remember to keep yourself and your worries in check. It’s the only sustainable path forward.