Perfectionism comes in different flavors

I never really thought of myself as a perfectionist.  Mostly because I am only an average student, and aren’t perfectionists supposed to be straight A students?  I have managed to convince myself that being an average student rather than the straight A student will give me an upper hand when applying to medical schools.  I’m trying to think of what my argument to myself was, but it’s sounding pretty lame now.  Maybe my application would get scrutinized more because why the average person would want to go to medical school is less obvious than the straight A student.  Yeah, I know, who am I kidding.

I have trouble identifying why this semester is particularly tough, but it is.  Unlike biology and calculus, I don’t consider physics and chemistry intuitive subjects (I know what you’re thinking with calculus, but seriously, I loved it.  Everything worked out so perfectly.)  I’ve been experiencing 2 types of perfectionism quirks.  And it boggles me how the desire to perform perfectly has resulted in complete opposite reactions.

The first was in chemistry.  Every week I read the chapters, spent a good 2-3 hours on the homework (usually 10 questions.)  I prepared ahead of time and read the chapter we were discussing.  But for the life of me, I COULDN’T get a 10/10 on a quiz.  I was so frustrated after one quiz that I walked out of class in tears right afterward and didn’t stay for the lecture because I knew I understood this stuff, I was just unable to prove it.  So the weekend before the mid term, I studied 3 days straight, taking off the Monday of the quiz to study.  I had my dry erase board where I worked through problem after problem memorizing compounds of ions and acids.  Everytime I left the apartment boy had the stack of flash cards and called them out to me.  It felt good.  I was extremely focused and did well on the mid term.  (I could have done better, but I scored 10pts above the class avg, so I’ll take it.)

Then physics.  I went to class, followed the derivations of equations, thought I knew what was happening.  Then came the homework.  And I would sit in front of one problem for an hour and a half not knowing what was going on and end it in tears.  So I gave up.  I knew I wasn’t going to get a good grade, and if I couldn’t get a good grade I didn’t want to do it.  I would sit in front of my homework and shut down completely.  I kept going to class, but I was too terrified to approach the subject on my own because I couldn’t perform perfectly.

My struggle for perfectionism led me to study my ass off in chemistry and to give up on physics.  I didn’t know that such performance anxiety could solicit such opposite responses.

So I bought 2 physics study guides, sat through student study sessions with tears welling up in my eyes, read through chapters and attempted problem after problem to only get frustrated when I set it up wrong.  And then I sat through a 3.5 hour physics mid term last night and left with a smile on my face.  I know I didn’t get and A.  I may have even gotten a C.  But that’s okay with me.  Because I didn’t totally give up.  I worked through all the problems except for one (because, really, if I know the time it takes for earth to go around the sun, and it takes another planet twice that time, how am I supposed to figure out the distance from the sun to the other planet?  I don’t get it.)  Now if I get a D or lower, I will be upset.  Fingers crossed a solid B.

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2 Comments

Filed under Life, school, Uncategorized

2 responses to “Perfectionism comes in different flavors

  1. I was a huge perfectionist in college, too. It’s quite stressful. It’s actually one of the big reasons why I haven’t pursued a Master’s degree as of yet.

  2. Megan

    I’ve often labeled myself as a perfectionist. I know I’m not perfect, but what’s wrong with striving for perfection? Or at least striving for ‘as close to perfect as I can get’?

    Well, today, my boss tells me “I’m not picking on you or anything, but perfectionism is a mental illness.”

    Now, I’m considering whether or not I can handle striving for ‘just good enough’ (which is relative, in my opinion). I’m also wondering what a doctor might prescribe for my newly diagnosed mental illness??!! Oy – whatta day! :oP

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