As you head back to school, you’re bound to see a million articles on social media telling you how to make this school year the best one yet. Sure, you can get the perfect planner to organize your life or start a new study routine in hopes of earning perfect grades, but I’d like to propose a different new school year resolution: Let’s throw off the desire to be seen as perfect by everyone around us.
Back in late July, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed when I came across a New York Times article chronicling the story of Kathryn DeWitt, a student at The University of Pennsylvania who struggled with depression. In addition to following the story of DeWitt, the article delved into some of the cultural aspects of Penn that may have contributed to the suicide cluster the school experienced last year.
The article is clear; these cultural phenomena are not unique to Penn and occur at many academically rigorous colleges. At Penn, there’s a word for the perfect image students project, Penn Face. According to the article, at Stanford there’s a name for this too, “the Duck Syndrome” so named because “A duck appears to glide calmly across the water while beneath the surface it frantically, relentlessly paddles.” Swap duck for swan, and I’ve heard that exact same metaphor applied to BC students.
You don’t have to look too hard to see that our school too is plagued by perfectionism, but the thing about perfectionism is that no one wins. You certainly do not win because the day will come when you will fail at something and you will have to reconcile that disappointment with a sense of self grounded in achievement rather than in your interests, values and relationships.
If you can’t buy the idea that your pursuit of perfection ultimately hurts you, maybe you can buy this: Your pursuit of perfection ultimately hurts the people around you. It’s our generation’s most widely used form of dishonesty. Saying this next paper is “no big deal” when you have no idea how you’re going to finish it on time or captioning your Saturday night selfie “Great night with great people” when you crashed a Mod party where you knew no one is isolating, not just for you but for others. Dishonesty doesn’t breed friendship because seeming like you have everything together doesn’t make you approachable.
These days, it’s so much easier to put up a front with the help of social media. We can edit and filter away all of our imperfections. We can be strategic to improve our follower to following ratios. We can sit behind a screen and build a profile of ourselves that doesn’t match our day to day experiences. We can type how great our lives are without even a smile to back it up, and all the while our “superior” virtual lives just make others feel bad about their own experiences.
So my challenge to you this year (and when I say you; I mean me too) is to break the cycle. When someone says, “Yeah, I’m basically done with the essay, and I feel pretty good about it. How about you?” be honest. Say that you haven’t started or that you’re not sure about the direction you took and are considering taking out your computer hard drive and throwing it into the Res, because maybe the person you’re talking to really isn’t as confident as they sound or maybe that guy in the corner overhearing your conversation will take heart knowing he won’t be the only one awake writing at 3am.