For as long as I can remember, I’ve tried to live my life without failure. When I look back on my childhood and teenage years, I can clearly remember having this fear of messing up. This fear was planted in my head not because of pressure from my family, friends, or teachers, but rather through my own determination to succeed. This goal to not mess up was more than just a desire to do well; it became a quest to be good enough for myself. But no matter what I did, my efforts somehow were never enough.

This more or less subconscious obsession that I had is what can be referred to as perfection paralysis: the debilitating fear of failure where you either have to do everything right or avoid doing it at all. For most of my life, this has been my approach. From school to friends to sports, I would be reluctant to put myself in a situation where I was unsure if I would succeed. If I convinced myself that I would fail, I avoided the situation at all costs.  

Perhaps I was a victim of this perfection paralysis because I have a learning disability. When I was little, I took a lot longer to read than most kids my age. Through struggling with assignments and reading in general, it took years of psychiatric testing and meetings with schools to acknowledge that I have slow processing speed. Sure, the diagnosis was helpful, as it gave me extended time on tests and provided an explanation for why I took so long on assignments, but I was always embarrassed by my disability. Although I was just as smart as my peers, I couldn’t look past this impairment.

During tests and in-class essays, I was constantly aware of how long I was taking or how far behind I was. Seeing that everyone else was two pages along while I was only one paragraph in ate me up inside, because no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t change the speed of my work. This drove me to strive for perfection in everything because (the way I saw it) if I couldn’t succeed in that part of my life, I had to perfect everything else.

By putting pressure on myself to have the perfect grades, social life, friends, athletic ability, and artistic talent, my life revolved around being the most perfect version of myself. With all the struggles that came with life and especially high school, this unrealistic goal I had set for myself was never met. It took until this past summer for me to realize what I was doing to myself and that this negative mindset had prevented me from experiencing my life in a healthy way; a way that brings more happiness and fulfillment to each day. 

It’s been a long struggle to get to a point where I’m not in a perfectionist mindset. On this journey, I’ve learned how to bring myself out of this unhealthy way of thinking by channeling other mindsets. I have to challenge the idea of trying to live my life without failure by constantly reminding myself that being who I am is not determined by who is better or worse than me. I also decided to take a break from social media, and now I spend a lot less time online. Distancing myself from social media allows me to focus on myself and not feel that I need to measure up to everyone else’s display of “success.” 

I think that perfection is dangerous in the mere fact that it’s unattainable. No, I’m not going to go into all the reasons why this is true and bring in Hannah Montana to sing “Nobody’s Perfect” to convince you of that. The important thing is to question the obsession. How did we get to a place where perfection is a mindset? Why is being our imperfect selves not enough?

For almost my entire life, I never asked myself these questions. But I’ve realized now that if it wasn’t for my slow processing speed, I wouldn’t have been able to create things with the attention to detail and analysis that I am proud of. My “shortcoming” happens to be one of my strongest assets. Yes, it’s a pain in the ass sometimes, but I am not me without it. Many times I have wished that this part of me would go away and I’d be free from my guilt and self-doubt, but I know that if that happened I would’ve found another thing to critique. I’m not going to lie to you and say that breaking free from perfection paralysis is easy. I’m guilty of falling back into this mindset all the time and it’s only natural.

More often than we’d like to admit, a lot of us fall into the trap of perfectionism. Between keeping up with the academics at a prestigious university filled with intelligent individuals, feeling the FOMO that is attached to the “work hard and play harder” attitude of Tulane students, and seeing college life through the facade of social media,  life can often feel like a never-ending dance of competition and comparison.  

Although this comparison is a natural behavior that occurs as we try to navigate the world around us, we need to prevent it from turning into a guilt trip. Looking for what we don’t have or what we’re missing does nothing but prevent us from finding true pride in ourselves. Once we eliminate this search for approval, we can bring ourselves to a place of fulfillment and acceptance.


About Katie Devlin

An International Relations major from Connecticut, Katie Devlin writes for our College Life section. She enjoys photography, yoga, and traveling.

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An International Relations major from Connecticut, Katie Devlin writes for our College Life section. She enjoys photography, yoga, and traveling.