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rethinking perfectionism by Masha G. '24

god i just want to get things done

I have long been a fan of the corner of the internet known as ‘productivity youtube.’ For those of you unfamiliar, this largely consists of video creators sharing various approaches to being more productive, having a better work ethic, balancing work/life, and all around developing healthier habits. Often times, when I tell someone about it, they’ll ask, “Isn’t that just people talking about self-help books?” And, honestly, yes. But that’s kind of the appeal, if I’m honest – I can have other people read the books for me and just tell me the most important/interesting bits. Of course, I usually open youtube at times of great procrastination, and can easily spend an hour watching videos about how not to procrastinate. Which isn’t to say that the videos aren’t effective or useful – even if I don’t follow every single tip I hear, it helps to hear new ways of thinking about old issues.

This is all to say that I was doing laundry at 1 am the other day (as one does, living between timezones01 ALSO can I just say how pissed I am about daylight savings time I am now 8 hours ahead and it is not fun, ESPECIALLY since I’ve been trying to sleep at a reasonable time and not stay up until 4 am every day ) and simultaneously watching the latest video from Rowena Tsai.02 ugh I love Rowena sm, I even went to a meetup with her in pre-covid times which was so lovely. she's just such a beautiful human being y'all should watch her videos Anyway, while this video was largely about self-acceptance in general, what particularly stuck out to me was the way Rowena talked about perfectionism.

Now, am I a perfectionist? I don’t know. Maybe? In some instances? I think we’re all perfectionists, at least a little bit. A quick survey of my friends suggested that my perfectionist tendencies are probably more pronounced than average. Sure, I’m not the most try-hard person I know. But I do definitely have high standards for my work, despite often not meeting them. I hate leaving things unfinished. But then, I do actually leave things unfinished, and not infrequently. And this contrast is key. Perfectionism isn’t a positive trait. It’s about overstating your goals, setting your expectations too high, and then being disappointed in the result.

These are all aspects of my perfectionism that I’ve been aware of, and that I’m trying to work on. I’ve been paying attention to where I direct my productive energy and trying to stay critical of my expectations and conscious that they might be too high. In this sense, it’s all about constantly questioning your instincts and recognizing that ultimately there are only 24 hours in a day. There’s a necessary trade off between how much you can do and how well you can do it, and I think this is something I particularly struggle with. What blew my mind in Rowena’s video, though, is the idea that perfectionism and procrastination are two sides of the same coin. Perfectionists procrastinate because they know, deep down, their work won’t meet their standards, so they avoid doing it to avoid the inevitable disappointment.

This rang very true. I procrastinate a lot, despite it often making me really stressed and/or unhappy. A prominent example is my research paper.03 for a project I've been working on for the past two ish years and want to try to publish Since the beginning of quarantine in March, I’ve been telling anyone who would listen that I’ll finish it soon, I swear, I mean, it’ll only take me a few weeks at most if I just set my mind to it and get my shit together. It’s now November, and I’ve made progress, sure, but it comes in weird bursts of motivation followed by month long breaks while I get distracted with other things. Thinking about it now, though, I can definitely see that I’m scared of being disappointed by what the paper will look like. There’s just so much more I could do for the project. But I need to accept that it would take too much more time in my life than I’m willing to devote to it. The key here is to lower my standards. I’ve convinced myself that I should just finish.04 easier said than done, but I've been working on it in small increments for the past two weeks! v proud of myself Just get a singular piece of work out, and see how I feel about it. Maybe it won’t be as bad as I dread.

It’s an ongoing progress. Combating perfectionism is about picking your battles carefully, and I’m not sure that I’m so good at that, yet. Some weeks, I do my psets early and meticulously, and then get upset by them taking so long. Other weeks, I leave them off for the last minute and stress as I do them quickly hours before they’re due. Even writing this post was hard, since I haven’t posted in almost a month and somehow that felt like a Big Deal and made me kinda scared of even starting again. There has to be a middle ground, though. I’m still looking for it.

  1. ALSO can I just say how pissed I am about daylight savings time I am now 8 hours ahead and it is not fun, ESPECIALLY since I’ve been trying to sleep at a reasonable time and not stay up until 4 am every day back to text
  2. ugh I love Rowena sm, I even went to a meetup with her in pre-covid times which was so lovely. she's just such a beautiful human being y'all should watch her videos back to text
  3. for a project I've been working on for the past two ish years and want to try to publish back to text
  4. easier said than done, but I've been working on it in small increments for the past two weeks! v proud of myself back to text