The cult of perfectionism

Abigail Eck, Opinions Editor

will be the first to admit: I’m a perfectionist. Like many others, I developed the mindset that getting straight As in school was a result of my own intelligence and willpower, and anything less would mean failure. Academic excellence was a priority over almost anything else, including my own mental and physical health.

However, with eight classes and four jobs (and some sort of social life?), it is almost impossible to get a 4.0. I started asking myself: do you even need that to succeed in life?

The answer, as most of you know, is no.

However, it is hard to remember this during the stress of finals and the resulting pressures to do well. Especially in America, our culture has this cult mindset around perfectionism, obsessing over it and pushing for it above all else. This can be seen in more than grades; take a look at Hollywood, for example, and the perfectionism of looks that it perpetuates. The results are negative mental and physical impacts on people.

It is easy to see, then, that the emphasis on grades can have a negative psychological aspect, including self-doubt, discouragement and insomnia among other difficulties. Goodness knows most students are wandering around campus feeling and looking like zombies during these last two weeks of the semester.

A psychological study on the effects of academic stress on mental health by Zainab Kiani at the University of Wah concluded, “The academic stress put a negative impact on the mental health of the students regardless of the age level and the gender.” They continued to state, “As the sound mind resides in a sound body so the students should be involved in the extracurricular relaxing activities so that the stress level is reduced.”

So what is important is to become adaptive perfectionists, setting high standards but not dwelling on past failures.

Keep this in mind: Steve Jobs finished high school with a 2.65 GPA. J.K. Rowling graduated from her university with a rough C average. M.L.K. Jr. got only one A in his four years at Morehouse. College is supposed to develop innovation and nurture the individual. However, that does not always happen, and your own individuality and creativity will not always be reflected in your grades. It is possible to be excellent without a 4.0 GPA; rather than conformity, excellence requires originality. If your grades can reflect that, fine. But what is important is investing in yourself above all else.

Don’t get me wrong –– I’m not saying to slack off on your homework and classes. However, it is important to acknowledge that straight As aren’t all they are cracked up to be; there are plenty of reasons to want them, such as scholarships that are based on GPA, but it is also important to take a breath so that your mind and body can function for these finals. Keep in mind: a good night’s sleep is better than an all-night cram session.

This article was originally published in the Dec. 14, 2018 issue.