veritas exquirere

Talon

veritas exquirere

Talon

veritas exquirere

Talon

Practice makes “perfect”

In a world of hustle culture and high expectations, it’s easy to feel like you’re always one step behind. It seems that the weight of the world is bearing down on our delicate glass shoulders, ready to shatter at any moment. The world is a chaotic place: How can you find the calm within the chaos?
Practice makes perfect

We know the reputation of Oak Park High School: competitive, intense and focused. Indeed, the stereotypes of Oak Park students are genuine. The typical student is often engaged in various accelerated classes, is involved in multiple clubs and campus activities, likely participates on a sports team and may even hold a part-time job. We take pride in our intelligence, involvement and being good at what we do; we’re Oak Park kids.

Yet, beneath the carefully constructed exterior of accomplishments lies an unspoken reality: the relentless pursuit of success often leads to sleepless nights, tears shed over a B+ and an overwhelming feeling of helplessness. Our painstakingly crafted appearances are one assignment away from succumbing to the pressure, crumbling under the weight of perfection and unattainable expectations.

As a senior juggling the demands of five AP classes, captain of the basketball team, Editor-in-Chief of the student newspaper, actively participating in seven clubs, finishing college applications and dedicating weekends to working youth basketball games, I know all too well how this feels. While there are moments of joy and satisfaction, there are also instances when the weight of these activities feels extremely heavy.

Engaging in numerous activities and maintaining a strenuous class schedule demands commitment and sacrifice. Why do we do this? Perhaps it’s because it seems to be what everyone else is doing. The peer pressure from the “Oak Park bubble” guides us to make certain choices, such as stacking our schedule with advanced classes or overcommitting to extracurriculars, that we feel obligated to follow. Through this cycle, we unknowingly pave a path toward self-destruction, willingly subjecting our physical and emotional well-being to attain the ultimate goal: perfection.

Perfection is tempting. By definition, this abstract and unmeasurable concept promises impeccability and flawlessness; but, students who become consumed by pursuing the unattainable inadvertently set themselves up for disappointment. When we obsess over external validation, we self-impose a plague of psychological turmoil.

“The negative effects of perfectionism on mental health are mainly manifested in psychological disorders and psychosomatic diseases,” Tingting Fang and Fan Liu wrote in “A Review on Perfectionism.” “In previous studies, perfectionism has been found to be associated with a variety of psychopathological phenomena, such as depression, anxiety, obsessions, eating disorders and psychosomatic disorders.”

I know what you may be thinking. Gen Z, the “snowflake” generation, needs to grow up. We ought to get some thicker skin and not sweat the small stuff. But dismissing the perfectionist epidemic as a “Boy who cried wolf” scenario oversimplifies the issue for one key reason: the negative psychological impact of perfectionism is significantly more prevalent in Gen Z than in previous generations.

A study originally published in Psychological Bulletin examined the generational differences in perfectionism from the 1980s to 2016. The lead author, Thomas Curran, Ph.D, and co-author Andrew Hill, Ph.D, measured three types of perfectionism: self-oriented (internal pressures to be perfect), socially prescribed (perceived external pressures to be perfect), and other-oriented (placing perfectionistic ideals on others). The study discovered that between 1989 and 2016, the self-oriented perfectionism score increased by 10 percent, other-oriented increased by 16 percent and socially prescribed increased by 22 percent. 

In a generation dominated by advanced technology and social media, our ceaseless chase for approval both on the screen and in everyday life can lead to an amplified sense of unworthiness. In our quest for acceptance and security, we often think that conforming to others’ expectations defends us from the devil over our shoulder. We convince ourselves that if we show people what they want and act how they want us to behave, we maintain a mask that conceals the hurt, struggle and chaos within. The ingrained desire to be perfect stems from the belief that it will protect us, a shield that deflects us from guilt, judgment and frustration. 

Society needs to understand that failure is not a weakness. When individuals driven by perfection encounter tests, assignments or goals, they see these challenges as opportunities to fail. Moreover, perfectionists often seem more stressed from the racing thoughts of their hypothetical downfalls, dwelling on everything that could go wrong.

Perfection is like an unrelenting, unforgiving dagger. It pierces the depths of our souls and ruptures our intentionally concealed emotions. The relentless blade takes its time, methodically poking and prodding, draining us of time, energy and health. We are depleted in the blink of an eye, with nothing left to give.

It’s time to transform our collective mindsets to view assignments and work not as potential failures but as opportunities for learning, personal growth and success. By recalibrating our thinking, we can gradually eliminate the toxic perfectionist within ourselves. Embracing a more positive outlook allows us to see challenges not as obstacles, but as building blocks for improvement and achievement.

So, the questions remain: How does a generation raised with Photoshop and artificial intelligence break the vicious cycle of seeking perfectionism? How do we build our self-esteem in such a high-achieving school?

The answer lies in self-reflection. We need to reevaluate our priorities and the expectations we impose upon ourselves. Shifting our mindset from “What will my friends think?” to “I am enough” is key to breaking the mold. If we start to accept ourselves for who we are right now and celebrate how far we’ve come, we can steadily change our narrative.  

Often, our sense of worthiness is set with conditions: “I’ll be worthy if…” or “I’ll be worthy when…”. If we want to succeed and experience belonging, we must believe that we are worthy of success and belonging just as we are. Once we take that courageous step toward the mirror and acknowledge the flaws, the imperfections and everything we wish we could change, we can start the healing process.

But acknowledging and embracing our flaws is far easier said than done. Let me assure you that in my 18 years of life, the avoidance of that metaphorical mirror and self-reflection has been my go-to strategy. While some may reluctantly acknowledge their faults, the genuine acceptance of oneself is a rare feat. It is human nature to shy away from admitting when we are wrong. 

My hesitancy to face reality stems from the inherent fear associated with it. It terrifies me. The prospect of unveiling the truth and giving it power is daunting. It would mean accepting the unflattering aspects of my personality and appearance that I work so hard to hide. The unsettling journey requires exposing the imperfections I prefer to keep hidden.

My greatest fear lies not only in the acknowledgment of my flaws and strengths but in the potential transformation that comes with accepting them. It’s a challenging process that requires courage, strength and vulnerability to be honest about who I truly am. Throughout my life, I have struggled to find acceptance and joy within myself. However, I am done giving my blood, sweat and tears to others; it’s time to invest in myself. 

As we enter this winter break, please join me in using the upcoming new year as a mental fresh start. Take the time to reassess your goals and priorities to identify what holds significance for you. Look in the mirror and acknowledge that it is ok to be you just as you are. Once we stop letting the idea of being perfect and the fear of judgment define who we are, we can embark on a journey to discover who we want to become. 

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Lindsay Gould, Editor-in-Chief
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