SCHOOLS AND Perfectionism

I'm not going to lie, I have had a really rough time with perfectionism and comparisonitis lately. Rationally I can tell myself all of the reasons why I shouldn't compare myself to others or why I shouldn't fear the judgement of others...

Sometimes, however, when you're not 'feeling' it, it just somehow feels harder to believe.

Are you able to relate to this?

If so then I'm going to throw this out there, you should continue to read

I remember being interviewed for my first teaching job and being asked what my weakness was... My answer was PERFECTIONISM (In fact this wasn't my first interview, this was around my 15th interview for my first post... but that's a whole different story).

I had been told that perfectionism should be my answer as it showed that I always strive for the absolute best and being the naive youngster that I was (and desperate to land my first teaching post) I accepted it without question.

It's only when I look back now, I see how wrong I was.

PERFECTIONISM was a badge I wore with honour. Proud to show the high standards I kept of myself.

The problem with perfectionism is that it doesn't come from a healthy place of having those high standards or wanting to do your absolute best, it comes from a place of FEAR.

A fear of judgement from others, stemming from a fear of rejection and a fear of isolation.

There are many reasons why people develop perfectionism through childhood, many of which can be found by speaking to psychologists or psychotherapists but my interest is how the cultures we are born into, have a covert way of influencing us.


How many times as a child did you hear this saying? Hundreds? Thousands? How many times through our education (home and school) did we hear this to keep us on track, keep us going through a PROCESS to make PROGRESS?

Don't get me wrong, this phrase comes from the place of best intentions but could be one of the most misleading phrases we have in the English language.

What we aren't seeing is the underlying message that if you practice you will one day be up to par, or rather that PERFECT equals GOOD ENOUGH. This is the time when our inner voice, or rather inner critic runs riot, he or she has a whale of a time telling us how shit we are, how we are not up to standard, how worthless our work is and how we will be laughed at by others if this or that is not PERFECT, or if we are simply not good enough. Suddenly we are in a world of questioning our self worth, too scared to make mistakes, unable to move for the feeling of being stuck and seeking validation of our SELF mostly from external sources for what we produce.

In one of the most watched TED talks (Over 20 million views), Sir Ken Robinson posed the question, "Do Schools kill creativity?". He then went on to argue that "we do not grow into creativity, we grow out of it, or rather we are educated out of it".

I once heard a teacher say to a year 11 class "You are now my most important people, you can make mistakes here in the classroom, but don't make them on the exam". Breaking that down, the underlying message is, 'you were not as important as everyone else until this year', you can make mistakes when there is nothing at risk' and 'do not fuck this up when you are being measured against others, for your sake, for my sake and for the schools sake'.

That message is one that is portrayed across schools throughout the world that have been subjected to westernised culture. A school's focus is firmly set on the PRODUCT and not on the PROCESS. This isn't a school bashing, they are only partly at fault. Schools are after all only a subculture of a larger society. The blame must hang with we (the people) have come to perceive success.

Just think about how you are rewarded in school, or rather how your worth (in the eyes of the school and ultimately society) is validated. Is it for your character? Is it for the resilience you have shown against adversity? Or is it a grade you are given for sitting an exam at the end of a 5 year process?


Kurt Cobain said "If practice makes perfect, and there is no such thing as perfect, then what is the point in practising?"


Here, I want to bring our attention to another quote. Theodore Roosevelt in 1910 gave a speech titled 'Citizen in a Republic'. It has gone down as one of the greatest speeches of all time and I often quote it to students or people I am working with as a reason to be 'in the game' or in the arena as Roosevelt put it.

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.

I love this quote, its powerful and shines a light to having skin in the game and daring greatly without knowing the end result. The adventure of not knowing but striving anyway.

It draws our attention back to the PROCESS, no matter the outcome or PRODUCT.

When we are judged solely on the outcome, the number, grade or rank we receive for our best efforts but are constantly told or shown we are falling short of GOOD ENOUGH, what reason then does anyone have to be in that arena when they already know the outcome.

Is a tree only defined worthy enough of the title tree when it has become a tree? At what point does nature decided a tree is now a tree and no longer a sapling or a seed?

From seed to sapling to tree, we notice and celebrate the process. We are too a part of nature, but in many places have somehow forgotten this.


Years ago, I eradicating the phrase 'practice makes perfect' from daily usage in my teaching and upbringing of my kids and replaced it with the one above.

I recognise that I am responsible for my life, my self education and forever will be 'in process'.

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