By Ms Claire Brunell, Psychology Teacher and Aspire Coordinator for the Caxton Times
When I left university I ended up working in a counselling service for young people. One of the counsellors was a very wise lady called Jenny who I will always remember for how calm and thoughtful she was. One day, however, I found her very frustrated when she had just finished a call with a young girl and she said, “I am so concerned with all these children who think they have to be perfect. I just want them to know they are good enough the way they are”.
Her words have stayed with me for a long time. The pursuit of perfection is one that is not reducing – if anything, it is increasing in our society. A quick search of research on the internet will tell you that perfectionism as a trait is rising amongst children and young people.
Some might see this as a good thing; young people who are aiming to be perfect cannot be a bad thing, right? Surely we should all be looking to improve ourselves? Self improvement can of course be a good thing: wanting to improve our grades, get a bit fitter. These are all valiant endeavours. The danger comes when we think we need to improve ourselves to be perfect. Working hard and wanting good outcomes is not the same as wanting things to be perfect.
Perfect means ‘without flaws or mistakes’ but mistakes are inevitable and shouldn’t be something that we punish ourselves for. In fact, people who beat themselves up for making mistakes are more likely to have problems with their mental health than people who are prepared to see mistakes as a learning opportunity (Levine at al, 2019, Patterson et al, 2021).
But how do we let go of our perfectionist tendencies? This might not be easy but there are a lot of resources out there that can help. The internet is full of self-help resources for people who want to tackle their perfectionism or you can always find someone to talk to.
Giving up on perfectionism doesn’t mean giving up on success. Giving up on perfectionism means you are prepared to learn when you make mistakes. You can still strive for the top but you are aware that things can go wrong but that is not a problem. ‘Perfect’ is an impossible goal. Maybe Jenny was right; good enough is good enough!
I will leave the final words to Cristiano Ronaldo, arguably one of the greatest footballers of all time, who also sees the danger of perfectionism…
“I am not a perfectionist, but I like to feel that things are done well. More important than that, I feel an endless need to learn, to improve, to evolve, not only to please the coach and the fans, but also to feel satisfied with myself”.