In school, perfectionism is often rewarded, but in life, it can hold you back.
Perfectionism served me well in the 1980’s American public school system. I checked and double-checked my answers on tests so I didn’t make careless errors. I turned in highly polished work and received bonus points for good presentation (usually by adding a colorful picture). My handwriting was neat and I liked working alone to solve problems with straightforward answers.
Then, in high school, I started precalculus and took a baseline math assessment. I bombed the test. I didn’t have the pre-requisite skills for the class. Somehow I’d managed to do well on tests in the foundational classes, but I’d forgotten the equations I’d memorized and lacked a true understanding of the concepts.
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Failure is not a weakness. It shows real strength of character to learn from your mistakes and keep going. Don’t give up. Mistakes only show us what we still need to learn.
You will have to move beyond many things you’ve learned in school. There is not always one right answer to a problem. There are many directions you can go. Learn to view these choices as exciting. Get clear on your values and they will lead you the right way.
Teaching yourself to adopt a growth mindset will help you rebound when times get tough. If you believe your brain can grow, you behave differently.
“Recent advances in neuroscience have shown us that the brain is far more malleable than we ever knew. Research on brain plasticity has shown how connectivity between neurons can change with experience. With practice, neural networks grow new connections, strengthen existing ones, and build insulation that speeds transmission of impulses.”
This is good news. It shows that traits like intelligence are not fixed. We can improve and change with practice.
Now that we know perfectionism is holding us back and we have some strategies to help us let go of it, what next?
Get out there and enjoy your swim. You don’t need a perfect beach body to have fun in the water. Submit your story to a writing competition or share it in a critique group. You can’t improve it by keeping it hidden in a folder on your laptop. Pitch a project idea to your boss. What have you got to lose? If he/she doesn’t like it, figure out why and improve it. Or, come up with another idea.
I’d love to see what you do now that you’ve cast off your perfectionist anchor.