Embracing Imperfection

by | Professionals

The year I won the award for perfect attendance, I was absent to accept it. I imagine the adults in the room swapped glances and chuckled at the irony of it all.⠀

When I was given the award along with my report card, I felt I didn’t deserve it. I couldn’t believe my teacher thought I should keep it.⠀

That farce of an award still sits in a box in my parents’ home as a nagging reminder of the one and only accolade of my achievements in primary school. ⠀

There’s so much to unpack there—specifically, how something seemingly arbitrary creates the dysfunctional desire in children to aim for perfection.⠀

Schools are notorious for rewarding excellence and rigorously remediating failure.⠀

I often wonder how much of my debilitating perfectionism resulted from my home environment and how much of it was ingrained in me by the school system.⠀

Growing up, perfectionism manifested in many ways for me:⠀


  • Keeping a meticulously clean and orderly room/home⠀
  • Feeling unusually apprehensive about being late⠀
  • Pushing my son to “hurry up” even though everything naturally requires time⠀
  • Not calling in sick when I was very sick⠀
  • Feeling guilty for being idle or resting⠀
  • Procrastinating until the “just-right” moment or when I had the “just-right” words⠀
  • Avoidance⠀
  • Wanting to give up entirely if the work was just average because accepting a zero was better than 70%.⠀

How are schools carving deep perfectionist footprints on students?⠀

  • Expecting perfect attendance, threatening calls to DYP for unwarranted “truancy”⠀
  • Unforgiving of tardiness⠀
  • Expecting grade-level standards to be met within one school year⠀
  • Shaming when standards are not adequately met⠀
  • Standardized exams⠀
  • Grading⠀
  • Awarding high achievers, overlooking creative thinkers⠀
  • Publicly rewarding when students follow the rules⠀
  • Punishing when rules are broken⠀
  • Implementing token systems for good behavior and taking them away for “misbehavior.”⠀

How are you bringing these harmful expectations into your home? School? Work environment? Community?⠀


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