I walked into the classroom just like I had done so many mornings before, and sat at my desk. I talked to the other students sitting around me as we all waited for class to begin. Our professor walked into the room carrying a folder full of papers, and announced that he had graded the exams we had taken the week before. As my professor began to hand back the exams I could feel my heart racing, my palms becoming clammy, and beads of sweat forming on my brow. I held my breath as a group of stapled papers was placed upside-down on my desk. I slowly turned it over and let out a silent gasp when I saw my grade in red ink. Ninety-eight percent.
Tears began to well up in my eyes as I thought, “What did I do wrong?” I had studied so hard for over a week for that exam, made sure I knew everything so I could receive one-hundred percent instead of just a ninety-eight. As I made an attempted to not show my distress I flipped through the papers quickly, looking for whatever I had gotten wrong. On the third page I saw one multiple choice question, that had been worth two points, crossed off, and the correct answer circled. “How could I be so stupid? That was obvious!” I thought, and so the cycle continued.
After class was over I went back to my dorm room, lay on my bed facing the ceiling, and began to cry. “I am such an idiot!” I spoke out loud. “I can never do anything right.” Other thoughts that were similar, such as not keeping a 4.0 or not getting into graduate school, went through my head until I finally realized something; I was a self-destructive perfectionist.
I began to look back on my entire life, at all the times I had gotten less than an A+ and completely beat myself up for it. I had based my entire life around being the perfect student, daughter, sister, and friend, and I was exhausted. I had been a perfectionist for so long that I had completely forgotten that being perfect was less important than doing my best. I thought of all of my friends who never seemed to worry about their grades, how they acted, or how they looked. They were all so relaxed about everything they did in their lives, and I wanted nothing more than to be like that.
I continued to think and pray over how I could fix myself, until I realized that “perfect” is a completely opinionated term. Who had I been trying to impress, anyway? Myself? No, I was trying to impress those around me. What is perfect to one person will always be different than what perfect is to another. It has taken me over a year to reconcile that fact, but now that I have I’ve realized that the only way to be perfect is to be myself, and if that means getting an A- on an exam, then that is okay.