Dear Ivy: PERFECTIONISM HURTS

Dear Ivy,

I’m in 11th grade and since forever I have been a perfectionist in everything I do, but especially in school. Basically, If I am to study, I need to study everything otherwise it's not good enough. I feel like I cannot start on the homework because I don't understand everything said in the lecture. If I don't answer all the homework questions, there's no point even starting them. If I’m making notes, every little detail needs to be included otherwise there's no point. I need to be perfect in everything I do, not just for myself but for my parents too. They moved us here so we can get a better life than them and I can’t stand to upset them.


But now here is my other issue – I have a huge fear of failure. I do not want to fail, and it’s gotten to a point where I think it’s debilitating – well mainly because my friends are noticing it. I should be able to get these math problems first time but I'm not so I'm probably going to fail. (This is probably the most damaging. It's got to a point where if I come across any math problem my mind tries everything to make me focus on something else, so it doesn't have to deal with the discomfort of not knowing how to do something). I've been taught this twice now and I still don't get it, have I become less intelligent? You get the idea. This sort of thinking has led to me procrastinating literally everything I do and it’s a horrible cycle I can’t seem to get myself out of. I don’t know what to do anymore and I am freaking out!!

- Perfectionist, 16



It’s okay!! It’s perfectly fine to take a breather and collect yourself. One thing I’ve learned is that you can control only your actions, but not the outcome. Being a teenager, I understand the need to doing everything perfectly all the time. But you know what, it’s EXHAUSTING! Burn out is very real and very damaging. I didn’t learn about burnout until I was in university, but when I did, I realized I needed to take a step back from my situation and think about what I was going to do next. I did not want to burn out, but I still wanted everything done perfectly so it was difficult. Over time I found a few things that have helped me with my perfectionism.


One of the things I did first was set realistic and attainable goals. This really helped because it laid out clear guidelines of what I wanted to accomplish, and I knew it was something I could do. You want to be able to set these goals for yourself and work towards achieving them. It is important to stay in-tune with yourself and be honest with what you can accomplish without throwing out your mental health. Another thing would be to break the overwhelming tasks into smaller steps so that you do not do too much all at once! You should also focus on one activity at a time and put your full effort into focusing on that single task. For example, you want to answer all your math problems but feel like there isn’t any point unless you do all of them. A simple way to break this down is to split your math problems up – the ones you know you can do very easily and the ones you might struggle with. Once you split them up, focus on the ones you are struggling with because most likely practicing those ones will help you better understand the questions.


Another important aspect in tackling perfectionism and the fear of failure is understanding that everyone makes mistakes! You are allowed to make a mistake, you are allowed to not know the answer to something, you are allowed to take a break. One thing I’ve learned is that things in life are temporary, fleeting, and messy – so nothing can really be complete, or whole or perfect in an ultimate sense. You can even say that being content with doing your best, whether it is messy or not, is a type of perfection. It can feel really good to just acknowledge that you did try your best and let yourself be happy with that.


The final thing I want to leave you with is that your parents love you and yes, they want a better life for you than they had, but probably not at the cost of your mental health. Talk with them and allow them to help you with your goals, allow them to help you achieve them! There is nothing wrong with asking for help and your parents are probably going to want to be involved and help you out. It is not your job to do things completely alone because you are not alone. You have people in your life that will gladly help you out and help you reach your full potential, and all you have to do is ask!


Sincerely,

Ivy



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