At the gate, you hear the announcement, “The pilot does not feel it is the absolute perfect time to fly. Since he is still waiting for the best conditions ever known to man and the perfect frame of mind, we are forced to cancel the flight.”
Now, would it not have been better for the flight to have taken off nearly perfectly rather than not at all?
Well, students find themselves in the pilot’s seat of their own life, struggling with perfection.
Here I want to discuss perfectionism and how to work past unhealthy perfectionism.
Striving to get the mark closer to perfect can awaken strengths and problem solving abilities you didn’t know you had!
Furthermore, while striving to get closer to perfect, you maintain high academic standards and perform well.
“Aim for the stars and, even if you fail, you will land on the moon” rings true at this moment.
The act of earnest striving for perfectionism, can lead to achieving sufficiently high marks before the illusive 100% comes.
On the other hand, perfectionism can be taken too far.
I have seen many of my friends and classmates lose their health and joy through uncompromising ambition towards 100%.
It is always important to keep things in perspective and see how one grade does not impact you 5 or 10 years down the line.
Unwavering ambition can lead to burnout and regret.
Jade, a recent high school graduate in England, made a controversial video about regretting her perfect exam scores. This regret does not come from ingratitude but from an awareness of the price paid for those grades.
What do you gain, if you get perfect grades, but lose your health and passion?
You can watch the whole video here:
That said, I read an interesting article recently, which discussed the perfectionism of gifted students.
If school takes no effort whatsoever for some students, then what would perfectionism for them look like?
In my experience, the number one place unhealthy perfectionism rears its ugly head is in “procrastination perfectionism.”
I myself have a life sentence, unfortunately. Linda Sapadin of Reed University defines this as: “You’re overly concerned with not meeting high expectations; you work so hard you never finish (or, sometimes, never start)” (read the full article here).
While at university, I was in the Honors College. Despite being surrounded by the “best and brightest,” we all waited to start our major projects.
In my case, I needed to see how each step would go.
I wanted to mentally foresee finding the resources, having the main points of the outline, and then writing the final draft, before I began anything.
This goes back to fear or feeling unprepared.
Though for some, like our pilot in the introduction, we may hunger for that perfect state of mind without fatigue or worry. Regardless, the allure of perfectionism can stop us from even starting.
Ways to Combat It
There are many ways to work through the negative effects of perfectionism. Here I will list four:
1.Make sure you schedule your project well.
Do not write down: “write essay,” but instead breakdown the project into manageable pieces.
You can focus your perfectionism on each step, rather than being overwhelmed by the whole.
I discuss this further in 3 Do’s and Don’ts, which you can read here.
2. Zoom out in time.
Will this essay matter in three months?
Will this test haunt me in five years? Most likely it will not even be on your mind in five days; therefore, relax.
3. Focus on what you are writing and building.
Forget about the grades for a second.
If you make something wonderful, then the grade you deserve will follow.
You can see it clearly, but when you reach for it…well…it does not turn out as you would have predicted.
All the more true for Middle Schoolers who are just beginning to articulate themselves fully in writing.
Here I want to explain a method to help young students write descriptions.
The secret is to use your eyes instead of your hands.
Don’t want to read the article? Watch my youtube video instead 👇🏻
First and foremost, I provide a picture of a scene.
At a young age, visualizing everything in your mind distracts from trying to write. You ask for a lot of juggling.
I like to use scenes from Disney films because they are very recognizable and the student already knows the story.
Secondly, I break down what I want to know.
Over the course of several lessons, I would devote a lesson to each of these:
The literal actions that take place in the scene.
Standing, running, holding, laughing, looking, etc.
The people themselves and their appearance
Woman or man?
Young girl or teenage boy?
What color is her hair?
What type of shirt is he wearing?
How big are her eyes?
Does her red hair connect with his red hair?
Could they be related?
Why is she looking at this?
Does her expression explain how she feels about the painting?
Thirdly, I will ask them to make a list for each category.
I am very serious about making a list.
I do not want them to attempt to write a paragraph too soon.
When we read young people’s writing, too often it resembles: “she looks sad. she is in a dress. It is sunny. she…. it….”
This is because our brains naturally wants to just process the information.
Young students (and many adults) cannot articulate themselves at the same moment they are digesting the information. Thus, I separate the steps.
Lastly, we write the paragraph!
Since everything is processed and organized, the student writes with more confidence.
Everything has come from the student.
I have not fed them the lines.
Moreover, they have arrived to it in a way that does not overload or pressure them.
The result, the paragraph itself.
We may then talk about combining smaller pieces of information or about the order of ideas.
The main outcome is that we have something to work with.
We can keep our discussion firmly rooted in writing instead of juggling mental images and overwhelming number of ideas.
Here is an example.
An older woman stands at the door.
She is holding a key.
The young woman gasps.
She holds a scroll.
She turns around.
The women are looking at each other.
The older woman is the stepmother. (It is not wrong to add plot points taken from the film itself because the picture is just there to help stimulate the student.)
She has dark hair, probably grey.
Her whole appearance is cast in shadow.
She is wearing a dark magenta dress.
The magenta dress is very long. It goes up to the neck and down to the wrist and ankles.
The other woman is younger.
She is Cinderella.
She is very pretty.
Her hair is strawberry blonde and short.
Cinderella is wearing a dress, blue and brown, and an apron, white.
Her eyes are very large and blue.
He mouth is opened very wide.
The room itself is hardly seen.
There is a door, table, and mirror.
The mirror is large, but slightly broken.
Cinderella has big eyes and an open mouth because she sees her stepmother at the door.
Her big eyes and opened mouth show that she is shocked.
The step mother is holding a key because she wants to lock the door.
The scroll invites Cinderella to the Ball.
Cinderella is a beautiful young girl with blue eyes and strawberry blonde hair. She is holding an invitation to the Ball. Her stepmother clutches the key ready to lock her into a room. Cinderella gasps at the sight of her stepmother because she is shocked.
No, this inevitably would not be what an 11 year old would write.
I wrote it to demonstrate the concept.
However, I have seen that with this exercise the student writes more than usual.
I make the story and also reinforce items: an old man with an old and a $12 ring for a 12 year-old granddaughter.
Applying the skill
Lastly, we need to apply this to an actual reading assignment.
I will ask the students to read the passage to themselves and then ask me about any words they do not know.
Then we will go over it together to make sure they understand the words and passage 100%.
Now we employ the story-telling technique in order to keep track of important items.
the main argument
something in parallel or conflicting
Here is an example:
A mother goes shopping with her teenage, ninja son. He says, “Mom, all my friends are wearing black! I want this shirt.” She responds, “We are just regular farmers. You should dress normally. I like this shirt more.”