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The Pathology of a Perfectionist

By Rebecca Bocchinfuso

Director of AMICUS

Part of being a perfectionist includes being overly hard on yourself and not being satisfied with your work unless it is flawless. One wrong answer on a tutorial question, or being unable to focus in class will spiral you into self-doubt and imposter syndrome. Wins and accomplishments feel futile, yet losses and mistakes feel like the end of the world.

Upon the completion of my first year of university, I became acutely aware of how perfectionism has impacted my quality of life. No matter how many accomplishments I achieve, I catch myself constantly dismissing them as flukes or just a result of dumb luck rather than any testament to my hard work. Nothing is ever good enough to allow me to feel content in my achievements. Taking a break from readings, studying or doing anything productive leaves me with deep feelings of guilt to the point where I cannot enjoy doing anything else anymore. In lectures, if I am unable to grasp a concept at its first mention, I become extremely hard on myself and let feelings of imposter syndrome seep into my psyche. The result of this is burnout and in some cases bouts of depression.

Recently, I had been preparing for a tutorial in one of my classes and I was struggling to grasp the structure and content expected of me. I spent hours going back and forth between the readings, lectures and my notes trying to figure out how to answer the question. I couldn’t think of anything except for this tutorial question so I put down my best answer and prayed it was correct. When it came time for the tutorial, I was absolutely terrified. I showed up and sheepishly found my seat, anticipating to be embarrassed by sharing the answer I scraped together. It turned out that the struggles I was having with the question were not unique to me, as everyone had similar problems. If I were to sit back and not voice my confusion with the tutorial question out of fear of embarrassment or failure, I would have been doing a grave disservice to both myself and my tutorial group. Looking back, I should not have been so hard on myself for not knowing everything about the tutorial question, because tutorials exist to teach you, not to assess you.

Through this experience, among other similar ones, I have learned that giving yourself time to process information and returning to it later is a positive way of combating the negative impacts of perfectionism. Half of the battle as a perfectionist is allowing yourself the time and space to feel unsure about certain concepts for a while, and then coming back to it with a clear head. Though having a consistent work ethic is key to achieving success, overworking yourself is unsustainable. If one is able to learn how to balance their time to include time for their mental health as well as their studies, it is indicative of long-term success.

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