Every day, many students say to themselves, “Time to go to school. Now, study. Go home. Study some more. Study again. Sleep. Wake up. Study. Do I feel burned out? It doesn’t matter. I haven’t studied enough.”
Aiming for perfection in school and academia is common amongst students. This desire may be due to parental influence or, perhaps, the need for validation. For many reasons, people often assert that perfectionism is a perfectly healthy choice, necessary for a prosperous future. However, striving for perfection in academic performance can negatively influence people in myriad ways. These negative outcomes can easily outweigh the positive ones as people experience debilitating effects on their mental health and outlook on life.
Many students are often told that, in order to succeed, they must have exceptional grades. This overwhelming goal can lead a person to develop an unhealthy outlook, believing they are nothing without “perfect” grades.
According to authors Swider, Harari, Breidenthal, and Bujold in their article, “The Pros and Cons of Perfectionism, According to Research”, there are two categories of perfectionism: failure-avoiding perfectionism and excellence-seeking perfectionism. Excellence-seeking perfectionism emphasizes high standards and “high-performance expectations”, whilst failure-avoiding perfectionism focuses on the prevention of failure. Both attitudes require an excessive amount of one’s energy, focus, and time. Quite often, people with perfectionist views become so enthralled with these standards that they unintentionally put other aspects of their life on hold.
It is hardly surprising, then, that students with perfectionism tend to have higher levels of stress, burnout, and anxiety. Since most schools tend to promote variations of perfectionism in the name of “excellence”, they often fail to support their students in times of need and burnout. With the help of relaxation programs, better support systems, and mental health programs, schools may be able to begin alleviating the negative symptoms that result from excessive perfectionism.
Even though these programs may preach the implausibility of perfectionism and its negative consequences, it is the mentality that students develop from these rigorous school systems that must be addressed. Succinctly, it is these educational institutions’ obsession with the idea of “excellence” that makes them ill-prepared for the after-effects of such rigorous imperatives. By setting expectations unreasonably high, schools are simply not promoting the development of a healthy and wise mind, diverging from the real purpose of education.
Ultimately, even though perfectionism can lead to positive outcomes, such as good grades, denser resumes, and acceptances to prestigious colleges, we must ask ourselves — at what cost should we be prioritizing such accomplishments over our mental and physical health?
Hopefully, educational institutions will also ask this question of their administration and educators and, consequently, provide a safer environment for their students to grow as healthier learners, thinkers, and people.