Staff Editorial

All or Nothing: Confessions of a closet perfectionist


Hello, my name is Tia and I’m a perfectionist. I’ve been one for almost 26 years, but I didn’t recognize at first that I had a problem. When you’re a kid, perfectionism is a good thing, as the stakes are low and the rewards high. It’s easy to get good grades and praise without working too hard. Nobody called it perfectionism at the time – I was just an A student, and someone who was “going places.”

As I got older, my expectations stayed the same, but the game got harder. You may not know this, but it is common for perfectionists to be Grade A procrastinators. See, with perfectionism, it’s all or nothing. You either give 100 per cent or ignore it entirely. If it can’t be perfect then it’s worthless. You get the point. This is how my mind works.

So, looking at assignments or tasks is actually the hardest part of school and work because I imagine it the way it’s “supposed” to be done (aka perfectly) and doing any assignment “perfectly” is a huge amount of work. The thought of this amount of work is overwhelming, so comes a cycle of self-doubt, anxiety, procrastination, self-loathing, panic and then hurried accomplishment. Lather, rinse, repeat.

It’s only been in the past couple of years that I’ve realized that my procrastination is a symptom, not a source. Just last Spring, I found myself on the verge of a nervous breakdown in the counselling office explaining that I felt overwhelmed with my course load and felt on the brink of failure. The counsellor, looking concerned, asked what my GPA was. It was 4.33. I could tell the counsellor was trying not to laugh, and they assured me that I was going to be alright, and that I just needed to stop being so hard on myself – it was not the end of the world if I got a B instead of an A+.

Illustration by Rachel Wada

They were right, but at heart I still didn’t believe it, because I walk the precarious edge of total success next to spectacular failure. There are so many started then abandoned projects, exercise plans and hobbies, and their common thread is the grandiose visions I had for how those things would work out. When they didn’t, I gave up. Worse, there are so many opportunities I’ve missed out on because I felt I wouldn’t be able to do them well enough.

My first time trying university, I experienced a serious bout of depression and ended up skipping enough classes to warrant a GPA of 1.7. I dropped out and moved back home, defeated. So this second round was really important to me, and I was determined to succeed. Unfortunately, that meant I needed to get the best marks possible. All or nothing.

It got to a point where I couldn’t balance my life properly, and I felt on edge all the time. I had to change something. So, I decided to stop trying to do things “perfectly.” For example, I don’t make goals to exercise everyday, now I set a goal for three times a week, and if one of those times is a five-minute exercise video done half-heartedly, it still counts 100 per cent.

It’s definitely not easy, but I’m making progress and my life is definitely more balanced. For example, I’m kind of untidy. Normally I would wait until I had eight hours to completely clean and organize the fuck out of the messy area, which meant it would never get done. Now I do things in spare bits of time here and there, and slowly my place is getting tidier.

The hardest part is mental, I have to forgive myself and be okay with doing things halfway. “Halfway is better than no way” has become my mantra. The mental part is a work in progress. For example, I got a B last semester and I’m still working on being okay with that. Like someone dealing with an addiction or mental health problem, working on this doesn’t mean my perfectionism magically goes away. I’ll always be a perfectionist at heart. But I’m learning how to move forward anyways, and how to kick ass, 80 per cent of the time.

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