I had impeccable report cards in elementary and maintained straight A’s throughout all of middle school. Exceeding standards was what I had done my whole life, and I intended to continue doing so in high school. My final fall semester grade in freshman English Honors was 88.46% — a B+.
Suddenly, I felt incompetent. I’m less than perfect. I failed, I thought to myself as I cried for hours.
My preschool teacher was the first to tell me that no one is perfect. Her philosophy fascinated me and I thought she was the smartest person ever for saying that. I continued to hear those words as I grew older but no longer took heed of them.
Perfection became a primary goal in my life, and I’m not even sure why. Maybe it’s because Asian families are big about success in America, or because I wanted to endlessly brag and prove my worth. Whatever the reason may be, my pursuit of perfection bred me into an overachiever who always set high standards.
And one of those expectations was straight As. Grades, I believed, defined my academic excellence and capabilities in life. They were a testament of intelligence, success and hard work, and had to be perfect. My biggest mistake and regret thus far is having that mindset.
After wallowing in self pity for weeks over that B+, I realized how pathetic I was, not because of my grade, but because of my non-resilience. Obsessing over perfection made every setback seem like the end of the world. Worst of all, my goal of straight A’s caused me to lose sight of the importance of learning and curiosity.
The cult of perfectionism isn’t exclusive to only me. Many students strive for straight A’s and flawless transcripts, and become inadequate in some ways.
“Getting straight A’s requires conformity. Having an influential career demands originality,” writes organizational psychologist Adam Grant.
Grant argues that straight-A students generally struggle with creativity because they don’t take many intellectual risks in fear of jeopardizing their grades. Straight-A students have a willingness to comply but lack a willingness to challenge themselves. For most, perfection is the final goal, and that is what destroys them.
The cult of imperfectionism is where we all truly belong, but breaking away from a perfectionist’s mindset is hard. Today’s society tends to set the bar too high and expects everyone to meet those expectations. In our pursuit to be perfect, we walk a narrow path and rob ourselves of rich life experiences.
Stop trying to satisfy the goal of perfection; it’s a waste of time. Stop thinking that straight A’s equate to career success; your grades don’t even guarantee college acceptance (and grades aren’t worth an Honor Code violation). Stop beating yourself up whenever you fall short; non-resilience is the real failure.
You can pour your heart into something and it won’t be perfect. But, it will be brilliant. It will be fantastic and spectacular and outstanding and incredible because you did the best you could. Strive for excellence, not perfection.
To every Baron out there, don’t make straight-A’s your primary goal. Remember that academic excellence does not always translate to career excellence. Don’t be afraid to fail. Instead, learn to bounce back before you graduate. As health teacher Bill Birinyi said to our alumni last June, “failure is the sauce that gives success its flavor.”