by Joanne Goldwater
Associate Dean for Retention & Student Success/Seahawk Family Liaison
Office of Student Success Services (OS3)
“Personal growth is about progress, not perfection.” (Hal Elrod, author of “The Miracle Morning”)
Many of us strive to do our best. Sometimes, we struggle and sometimes things are easy for us. When I was in high school geometry, my best was to get a C. Whew!! I wasn’t shooting for the moon. I just wanted to pass the class.
For some of our students with perfectionist tendencies, they may struggle with day-to-day tasks. What does a perfectionist student look like?
- The student sets very high, unrealistic goals for themselves and for others. They get frustrated when they, or their friends/family members, are unable to achieve these unrealistic expectations.
- They have a deep-seated fear of failure and disappointing others.
- They tend to fear making mistakes, no matter how big or small. They may miss opportunities for learning because in their minds, they must avoid all mistakes.
- They usually live by rigid rules based on what they believe they should do instead of on their needs, wants, and feelings.
- They think they are the only ones struggling. They believe that everything comes more easily to everyone else.
The reality is, we live in an imperfect world. So how do you help your student who has perfectionist tendencies?
- Do not expect perfection from your student. Expecting your student to make straight As sets them up for unrealistic expectations. Support them when they make mistakes or don’t do as well as they would have liked. Yes, they should try their best, but in some cases, their best may be getting a B or a C. Live with it.
- Encourage your student to set realistic, attainable goals. Then help them prioritize those goals.
- Help your student learn how to enjoy the process of working toward a goal, and not be laser-focused solely on the outcome.
- Remind your student that often, good is good enough. As the saying goes, “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.” It is far better to turn in an assignment that is good enough than to not turn in an assignment and get a 0. Some credit is better than no credit, right?
- Help your student to learn from their mistakes. Ask open-ended questions. The conversation could go:
You: “What were your reasons for not submitting that assignment on time?”
Student: “It just wasn’t perfect. I still had to fix it.”
You: “What would have happened if you had submitted it the way it was?”
Student: “I would have gotten a lower grade.”
You: “Which is better: getting a lower grade or getting a 0 on the assignment? How is spending a huge amount of time on this one assignment, and not submitting it, impacting your work in your other classes?”
- Some additional questions include: “How realistic were your expectations?” “What could you have done differently?” “What did you learn from this?” “What can you do to prevent this from happening again?”
Your assistance, understanding, and support can make a difference with your student who may be dealing with perfectionistic tendencies. Encourage them to use the resources on campus: OS3, the Wellness Center, office hours of their instructors and academic advisor, the Writing & Speaking Center, Teaching Assistants and Peer Mentors. We are all here to help our students be successful, in and out of the classroom.
Adapted from “Parenting a Perfectionist” in PaperClip Communications, The Parent Pages (2007).