For as long as I can remember, I have been obsessed with the idea of perfection.
I am the textbook definition of a “Type A” personality. I was always determined to achieve immaculate grades, deliver impeccable athletic performances and present a spotless social image.
Although I believe that ambition and determination are admirable qualities, my experiences have shown that they can be destructive when taken to the extreme, and for quite a while, I didn’t quite understand the toll my perfectionism had taken on me.
In fact, it wasn’t until my fall semester of sophomore year that I realized how damaging that sort of pressure could be to one’s mental health.
I had decided to take 19 credits, including a position as a Teacher’s Assistant and work on a research project. In addition to my academics, I also held a variety of leadership positions in a number of clubs and organizations, and worked as a waitress part-time.
Although I was successful by most standards in all of these roles, I found myself honing in on my shortcomings rather than focusing on what I had accomplished.
I would stay awake at night, my mind churning over the fact that I hadn’t secured an internship for the next summer. I agonized over the research reports I submitted for my project, worried that I hadn’t contributed enough to earn an A at the end of the semester.
I spent countless hours poring over notes and textbooks in order to ensure a flawless performance on my exams, leaving little time for myself.
The anxiety, stress and unhappiness I felt during those months was only exacerbated by being deprived of the socialization and support from my friends because of COVID-19 lockdowns.
I found myself shifting away from the interests I had always been passionate about in favor of things I believed would bring me more prestige and credibility.
I sought to learn hard skills such as advanced statistics and coding, and while these credentials may have boosted my resume, I came to realize that continuing to pursue them was not sustainable because I did not genuinely enjoy them.
I know that my experiences are not unique to me and they in fact represent patterns felt by many other women across society. Women are more likely than men to be perfectionists and are more prone to self doubt, rumination and overanalyzing as a result of the patriarchal invalidation of women’s voices.
The Western tendency towards the devaluation of the feminine means that disciplines such as art, literature and other more subjective fields are considered less valid compared to more objective, typically masculine, disciplines. As a result, individuals often depreciate disciplines and ideas that add immeasurable value to society. In writing this, I hope to call attention to these issues and demonstrate solidarity with other women who share my experience.
Returning to Lehigh this semester, reconnecting with friends and exposing myself to new perspectives helped me learn some important lessons about myself.
I realized that success is not defined by the income I generate or the prestige of my future job, but instead by personal fulfillment and passion for one’s work. I’m now exploring ways that I can incorporate graphic design into my education and investigating potential careers in creative marketing as one way of manifesting this realization.
I learned that perfection is rarely attainable and self-acceptance is key.
I came to understand that mental health—not grades or professional advancement—is my priority, and that I should seek meaningful experiences rather than trivial achievements.
I think that many people make the mistake of equating happiness to the image of perfection: landing a dream job, becoming rich, starting an idyllic family, having a legion of friends.
For me, happiness came from embracing my imperfections, accepting my failures and taking the time to enjoy the things that truly give my life meaning.