(Please be aware that all my blog posts on health and well-being will be continued on another blog).
You would believe that striving for perfection is healthy. After all, how would we ever achieve our best results if we didn’t work as hard as we could? In reality, setting the bar high can have a negative effect, which I myself have experienced.
Anyone that knows me knows that I do A LOT. This year alone, I’ve been juggling my Masters degree in Biology with dancing, running, pole fitness, reading, blogging, volunteering, fundraising, representing Biology as a course representative, being a peer mentor for life sciences, a role as volleyball captain, my job as a student ambassador, starting to play guitar and sing, socialising with my (then) boyfriend and friends… I often forget things just because there is so much to remember. On paper, I am happy with what I have achieved over the past year, and I am also happy that I am proactive and do not miss an opportunity to improve myself.
Admittedly, I used to strive the most on the opinions of others. “You’re amazing!”, “You’re so talented!”, “I don’t know how you manage to do everything!” – these were confirmation that I was doing something right. Of course, they are very complimentary things for someone to say to you and reaffirms my value that everyone should be kind. For me, though, it made me feel under even more pressure that I would end up letting everyone down if I didn’t maintain this image.
Perfectionism is a psychological personality trait where you set very high standards for yourself. This doesn’t sound too bad; in fact, it is healthy to push yourself out of your comfort zone every once in a while. Perfectionism, however, is coupled with setting your goals by comparing them to the standards of others and being self-critical.
I entered fourth year very confident with my abilities, having achieved a First Class in third year and life being pretty ‘dandy’. As I had only 40% of my degree left, I believed I was on track to smash it and come out with a First Class Integrated Masters. Any employer would be impressed with that. A lot of my friends had left after finishing their three year courses, so without them to socialise with I set my efforts into making the most of my last year, which involved taking on a lot of new responsibilities. The main aim was to make my CV stand out.
The optimism that I once had began to slip as the year went on. Masters degrees are hard, and I soon realised that achieving a First Class wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. It became my overriding goal that I MUST achieve a First Class degree, and if I achieved a 2:1, this was a failure. As I continued to walk the tight rope, swaying from being graded a First Class to a 2:1, I could feel myself getting more stressed and more emotionally exhausted. To say that this had an effect on my personal life would be an understatement.
What I didn’t realise though that regardless of which way I fell off the tightrope, I would fall into a safety net. A 2:1 is still amazing, and would open up hundreds of doors for me. It’s possible that I wouldn’t achieve the icing on the cake, but cake is still good without icing! With a week until I receive my degree classification, I’m not feeling nervous; I feel relieved that it’s going to close a chapter on my life.
It wasn’t just my degree that I felt I had to achieve perfectionism in. Social media is a fantastic platform for keeping in touch, but it can also be amazing at making you feel a bit shit about yourself. Seeing people travel to exotic places, achieve high grades, looking gorgeous on a selfie, having the best time with their boyfriend or their friends… you sometimes can’t help but compare yourself to them, especially when your own life is unravelling at the seams. In reality, no one posts about the bad things, and what they post on social media is representative of all the good things in their life rather than the balance. It’s easy to understand why when we are so focused on achieving happiness in life. I am the first to hold my hand up and say I am guilty of both setting my standards based on others, and feeling the need to take a photo and post it every time something good happened. Looking back though, some of my happiest moments haven’t been caught on camera, and it’s nice thinking that I do have the right to privacy in my life.
The etiquette of social media is also ridiculous. If more people post on your timeline for your birthday, you are therefore more popular. Not receiving even a message on your birthday must mean that that person doesn’t care about you. A post with no likes after a few hours must be deleted because it must be that people don’t care about it as much as you do. If a person has left you on ‘read’, they are ignoring you and they don’t want to talk to you. Quite frankly, it’s all a load of bollocks. Facebook is made up of pixels at the end of the day, and they will never be able to replace a conversation with a coffee that you can have with a friend in real life. The best thing about Facebook for me is making sure those I love, such as my family and friends, have a way of being in touch. Other than that, Facebook can be a platform for insecurity.
Over the last month, it has really helped me to reach this perspective and not feeling the need to prove to everyone how amazing my life is. I’ve fully accepted that I will never be perfect, but no one is. Everyone is unique and that’s what makes everyone so great; wouldn’t it be awful if we were all the same?