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  • Writer's pictureJulien Morizio

Perfectionism: A Busy Trap

An article by Natasha Frost has been making waves on LinkedIn recently. It is about a recent study that suggests that perfectionism is not ideal in the workplace. Being a perfectionist does not add a net benefit to performance, nor does it make you popular with your colleagues. Rather, people prefer to work with others who have realistic expectations. The opinion about perfectionists is that they can be "hard to get along with," being too task-oriented, and expecting flawlessness from themselves and their colleagues (Frost, 2020).

While this study was centered on the workplace, I could not help but draw parallels with student perfectionists, who are on the rise. Other studies are showing that "young people are far more likely to be perfectionists than their predecessors" (Frost, 2020). Feeling the pressure of high expectations, the current generation is increasingly anxious as it strives to be perfect. Having seen young perfectionists at work in the classroom and having been one myself, I have something to say on this subject. What comes to mind is the old saying: "Perfection is the enemy of the good." Who is responsible for this line is not certain, but it has been attributed to many wise people: Voltaire (“The best is the enemy of the good”), Confucius ("Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without"), and Shakespeare (“Striving to better, oft we mar what's well").

What I take from this saying is that striving for perfection can distract you from doing well. I see that in students. Simple examples include focusing too much on the format of an essay rather than sufficiently developing its matter, or in math, making sure they write the procedural steps precisely as their teacher showed them, and then running out of time during an exam. Perfectionism is often tied to appearance. It is more about appearing to be competent than doing a job well. As Frost puts it in her article, perfectionism has “come to describe a particular worldview: someone who avoids error on a personal crusade for flawlessness” (2020). Many students have adopted this worldview this fixed mindset. Unfortunately, it has led to teachers receiving neat and well organized work from their students, but at times incomplete or with a lack of substance. I have known plenty of students that could design the best cover page, and put together an immaculate bibliography, following MLA to a tee. If only they would have dedicated more of that time to thinking about the main part of their assignments.

Is the "fake it till you make it" culture to blame here? Maybe. I think it might also be the value we place on being busy. People almost boast about being busy. It can be shameful not to appear to be busy. The problem with that is that you can be busy doing a lot of things. For example, I can be busy reordering my books on my bookshelf, or rearranging my clothes in my drawers. But what would I be getting done? Not much. Being busy, just like being perfect, often stands in the way of being productive. You can be productive, accomplish a lot, and not be busy. What therefore helps counter a perfectionist attitude is being result-oriented. Instead of being stuck on the task, using up precious energy to be perfect every step of the way, why not do what is necessary to produce the right outcome?

There is a self-defeating aspect to being a perfectionist and I think it would be in every student's best interest if we were not to help them cultivate this tendency. A little anxiety can be a good motivator, high expectations can push them to be their best, but they should never lose sight of their goal. I know we like to say that the journey matters more than the destination, but what is a journey without a destination? Being result-oriented is definitely the way to go and I think that it would not hurt to share this message more with children. If we do, then they might very well grow up to be productive individuals who are fun to work with in the future.



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