Living@Guelph - Choose Your Own Adventure Living
What's Wrong with Perfection?
By Maryann Kope

Most people think of perfectionism as a good thing. What can be wrong with high achievement, striving for lofty goals, and persisting to the end of one's endurance? It's probably a fair assumption that most of the world's great achievers, whether scholarly, artistic, or athletic, are perfectionists. We respect and admire their drive to reach for the limits of their abilities and to keep going against all odds, long after others would have quit.

There is an interesting connection between perfectionism and advanced intellectual ability, which means that perfectionism is common among university students. For some, it's a strong motivator towards academic achievement. However, perfectionism can also have a debilitating effect on how students think, work, study, and manage their time. Even if you don't think of yourself as a perfectionist, perfectionism may still be influencing your study and work habits, your stress level - even your relationships.

Can you recognize the differences between excellence (which is attainable) and perfection (which is not)? This list provides some examples:

- working hard on a research paper, handing it in on time, and feeling satisfied with your effort- starting the research paper at the last minute after getting an extension, staying up two nights in a row, handing the paper in late because you had to get it right, and still feeling bad about it
- preparing for a test well ahead of time, taking it with confidence, and feeling good about your high score- cramming the day before, getting so stressed out that you are sweating and shaking during the test, and then feeling depressed about your grade because a friend got a better grade
- choosing to work on group projects because you enjoy learning from the varied experiences and approaches of different people- always working alone because no one can do as good a job as you and you're not about to let anyone else affect your mark
- reading the story you wrote for the school paper and appreciating some changes that the editor made to improve it- making a big stink and telling the editor off because she dared to tamper with your work
- being willing to try new things, take risks, and learn from your experiences and your mistakes- avoiding new experiences because you hate making mistakes

Do you recognize yourself or someone you know in these examples? Perfectionism may be the root of a number of common student learning problems, including procrastination, a lack of perseverance, or an aversion for criticism, group work, or new experiences. If any of these are preventing you from achieving excellence and feeling satisfied with your accomplishments, contact the Learning Commons at ext. 53632 or e-mail We offer information, resources, and advice to help you to learn more about perfectionism and strategies for dealing with it in positive, productive ways.