Aim high, feel low: The tight grasp of perfectionism college students face

Nicole McIsaac, News Editor

All or nothing. Perfect scores or failure. Stand above the rest or feel at the bottom.

This is certainly a standard that exists for many wrapped in the tight grips of perfectionism on a college campus, including myself. Whether you fight bouts of perfectionism once in a while or daily as a student or in your personal life, it is a challenge to give your all all the time.

It starts off as a simple wave of disappointment when receiving a low test grade or possibly getting rejected from a job. Maybe a situation does not quite exactly play out how it was intended to or how it was planned over a million times in your head.

Illustration by Peyton McKenzie

Then the panic and regret takes charge.

You feel completely engulfed by every thought of criticism, finding ways to nitpick everything that could have gone better. It’s a constant refusal to accept anything less than perfection for any given aspect of life. You set unrealistic goals so high and continue to push yourself until you’re physically and mentally exhausted. All of the time.

To be honest, it’s crippling. It consumes every single aspect, making everything simply unenjoyable.

Even now as I write this, I sit in my bedroom analyzing every little detail and ensuring I say everything correctly, praying the article “perfectly describes perfectionism.”

Having this personality trait can be a self-motivating and helpful tool for some, but can become overwhelmingly toxic if taken too far. Perfectionism eats away at a person, slowly deteriorating someone’s mental and physical health.

Living your life by the standards changes you, and not for the better.

You strive for perfection, ignoring the possible negative outcomes. You procrastinate and avoid anything that seems like a challenge. You compare your success, body and personal encounters to others. You develop a new pattern of thinking, all while losing your creativity and spark in life.

I often feel like I fail at everything, procrastinate regularly, continuously compare myself to others, struggle to unwind, become obsessed with work and become controlling in any of my personal and professional relationships all because of my battles with perfectionism.

A perfectionist mentality can simply come from pressures to succeed from family, maybe even watching others continue to strive in their personal endeavors and the comparison that directly stems from that. However, it is important not to glaze over how society plays a role in creating standards that depict failure as the most detrimental aspect of life.

In an online article titled “Truth About Perfectionism” on Ohio State University’s website, the heavy pressures to succeed that come from society don’t necessarily go away, but instead alter as one moves through different stages of their life.

“Thinking of our society, it is not hard to see how this epidemic of perfectionism has flourished,” the website states. “High school students need great grades and impressive extracurricular activities to get in college, college students need great grades and real-world work experience to get a job, employees need great records and performance in order to be promoted. It is a competitive world, so in order to succeed, we believe we must be perfect.”

College students facing hard deadlines, balancing coursework and trying to figure out who they even are illustrate the effects of perfectionism at an alarmingly high rate.

In an online study on depression in college students, roughly 30% of undergraduate students revealed symptoms of depression. Perfectionism is a common culprit in this.

While these findings are heartbreaking, it’s no surprise that the wrath of perfectionism poses a threat to the college student community. Doing your best and giving it your all sometimes just doesn’t feel like enough.

Take it from me, a person who is involved in multiple leadership opportunities in several organizations, working part-time, attending college, living on my own and trying to balance a healthy lifestyle. It is exhausting.

Sometimes I feel like I am trying to balance 50 things in my head, making sure that every single task is completed exceptionally. I give 110% to everything I am involved in, but constantly feel like I am drowning and never feeling like I am doing enough.

It continuously feels like the individuals around me don’t understand the challenges I am facing and become frustrated for every time I feel chaotic or “off,” every time I miss a gathering, every time I don’t get around to answer a text or even if I just don’t have time to be an ordinary 20-year-old.

It is an exceedingly hard lifestyle to live that feels lonely at times.

But believe me when I say I am trying to get better, for myself. So I ask you, if any of this resonated with you, please take the time to be kind to yourself. Mistakes will happen, missed opportunities will occur and you will be face-to-face with failure.

That’s OK. You are OK.

Knowing when to stop and reevaluate yourself is important. You owe it to yourself to voice your feelings and speak up when you need to take a step back.

Whether you choose to recognize it or not, all you have is yourself and you can’t afford to neglect your needs.