Perfectionism in College Students and Girls

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"An occasional B from challenging yourself will be so much more meaningful in the future than a transcript of all A's from spoiling yourself now."

Karin K. (12)

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A New York Times article “What Straight-A Students Get Wrong” by psychologist Adam Grant points out the “cult of perfectionism” within college students. The overwhelming stress for perfectionists to maintain flawless transcripts creates an incentive to take easier courses and stay within their comfort zones. However, the trade-off of such mindsets includes wasting the rare opportunities given at school to reach out to a variety of fields and learn from mistakes with minimum setbacks. An occasional “B” from challenging yourself will be so much more meaningful in the future than a transcript of all “A”s from spoiling yourself now. Grant works to teach students that “underachieving in school can prepare you to overachieve in life.”

Reshma Saujani, a former candidate of NYC Congress, shares an overlapping concept in her TED talk “Teach Girls Bravery, Not Perfection”. Saujani feels that women are underrepresented in almost every working field now because society is raising girls to be perfect and boys to be brave. For this reason, men are used to experiencing failures by the time they become adults while women are still afraid to show imperfection. Saujana emphasizes the importance of teaching girls that they will be “loved and accepted not for being perfect but for being courageous.”

When I participated in a science internship during the summer, my lab consisted of 16 guys and 1 girl myself. I heard from my friends there that their girl classmates “gave up because they didn’t know whether they’ll make it.”

The tendency for girls to believe that they have to be exceptionally good to participate in something seems to continue into adulthood as well. Just as an HP report found that men apply for jobs when they meet 60% of the qualifications whereas women only if they meet all, women underestimate their abilities because they view imperfection as a flaw. Society must create an environment where both genders can be equally habituated to taking risks from a young age.

“Perfectionism” is no longer restricted to having a negative tone due to the increasing tendency for adolescents to achieve high. However, young adults — especially women — who grew up as perfectionists often face similar dilemmas when they run into a wall: they do not know how to overcome the problem. The lack of experience in making mistakes at a young age takes away the opportunities to build resilience in coping with failures when older. Whether it be STEM or politics, it is an undeniable truth that current society is missing out on so many women with amazing potential.

To make a gender-equal society a reality, we, feminists, must be the first people to step out of our comfort zones. Perfectionism is a challenge, but also a form of cowardliness. I believe that strong and independent women with the courage to fail will increase in the future if we show pride in every failure — better known as the outcome of every courageous action — that we’ve experienced and overc0me before.

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