Fear of failure often keeps students from trying, but perfectionism often keeps students from succeeding. Paralyzed by the fear of being less than the best, many students either stop trying or work themselves into the ground. Research shows that perfectionism, defined as excessively high standards for oneself or others, is on the rise with college students.
Whether students impose unrealistic standards on themselves or feel that parents, friends or teachers are expecting more of them than usual, Psychology Today reports that perfectionist tendencies have increased substantially among young people over the past 30 years. They report, “Greater academic and professional competition is thought to play a role, along with the pervasive presence of social media and the harmful social comparisons it elicits.”
While “grit” or inner drive to succeed can be healthy and aid students through 8 a.m. classes, late-night study sessions and long research projects, when taken to the extreme, striving for perfection can have detrimental effects on students’ health.
High-achieving high school students often come into freshman year with the admirable and good goal of continuing their academic success from high school in college but find college a much more demanding challenge than they were expecting.
The success of fellow students often compounds students’ feelings that they need to do more. This perfectionism often leads to feelings of guilt, depression and anxiety or even physical harm as students drink that extra cup of coffee instead of sleeping and work through lunch instead of stopping to eat. Often students view “average” grades as the kiss of death to their education, when in fact their 4.0 grade point average might be the destruction of their mental and physical well-being.
Perhaps the most dangerous result of perfectionism is guilt when one fails to achieve perfection, which Christians know from Scripture is a regular occurrence. While it is important to repent of sin, it is also important to realize that God’s grace covers our sins. When Christians hold on to the guilt of sins or mistakes that they have repented of and that God has forgiven, they are acting as if they feel that the forgiveness of God is not enough. Christians must let go of guilt and move forward, trusting God’s grace to cover past failures and His strength to cover future challenges.
BJU students must be careful to accept that their best may not always be “the” best, but that in the eyes of God, the effort and motivation is what matters and not the product. Christians are exhorted to do everything with all their might; yet rest must also be on the to-do list. Students should consider physical and emotional well-being of equal importance to their academics.
To respect the temple of God that is their body, students must exercise their “might” in taking care of it. While Christians are exhorted to give their best, nowhere are they told they must be the best. A student’s best changes on a situation by situation basis. Students cannot expect their best after a stressful week of tests to be the same as their best at the end of summer break. In the words of Dr. Pettit, sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is take a nap.