Mindful Journeys: Perfectionism kills all good

Ever since I was little, I’ve equated perfection with success. 

From the time we’re little, any task or assignment we do well, we’re showered with praise. From big things like acing tests to little things like tying our shoes for the first time, we’re rewarded for it. Now I don’t think this is where my anxiety started (it’s genetic), but it can certainly be one of the ways anxiety presents itself in my life.

When tests, papers and projects started to matter — as early as elementary school — anything less than an “A” was unacceptable in my eyes. I even remember having my parents quiz me on spelling “Emancipation Proclamation” for my first grade spelling test’s extra credit. I was devastated when I got a “C” on a test in third grade. Thankfully, my retake bumped my grade higher.

It only progressed from there. In middle and high school, I studied as hard as I could for all of my tests. I’d go in early to ask teachers questions and review the material until we were told to put our materials away. If a project or paper wasn’t coming together as I envisioned it, I’d get frustrated. When my GPA dropped from 4.0 to 3.8 after sophomore year (thanks Physics and Algebra One), I tried everything in my power to raise it back up. I accepted my diploma with a 3.9 and told myself college would be a fresh start. 

I fully believe the reason I’m so hard on myself when it comes to school is that it’s one of the things I can control; one of the annoying parts of anxiety is struggling with the fact that there are things I can’t, such as sickness, how others react to situations, the future and the past. When our minds spiral with overthinking and negative thoughts, one of the reasons can be from what’s unfolding not going as we envisioned it. We also try to think about what will happen in the future so we can prepare for any possible outcomes and different scenarios. Getting good grades is in my hands; I can change how my academic future is impacted due to my scores. 

I’m still struggling a bit with this in college. Those who know me know I typically will say I can hang out after I study or get all of my work done. I’ve woken up early to get a jump start on an assignment and stayed up late to finish others to get them out of the way. I want to do the best I can and I try not to stress about any hindrance that may stop me from getting an “A.” I don’t die inside (as much) when a couple of points are knocked from the overall score, but I still think about what I could’ve done better.

With a little over one year left for me at MSU, I’m still going to be striving for those A’s. However, college is more than just studying. My homework will not burst into flames if I don’t touch it for a few hours getting coffee with friends. Besides, I don’t even remember what assignments I was stressed out about at this time last year or even at the end of last semester. Perfectionism can be a mood killer, but don’t let it destroy all the obstacles you’ve overcome.

Header Photo: Courtesy of Emma Johnson

Write to Emma Johnson at

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