Updated: Aug 21, 2021
From the time I was very young, I learned that being a student was about the product. A good finished product got me a high grade, a sticker, a star at the top of the page, a smile, a "good job!," a hug. As I got older, good finished products got me scholarships, entrance into excellent education institutions, jobs, and opportunities that I had once only held in my dreams.
I got a lot of payoff for being a good student. There's nothing wrong with that!
Unfortunately, I learned some bad habits during all that time focusing on the end product. I learned to have unrealistically high expectations of myself. I judged myself and others when they didn't meet those expectations. I gave up on things if I wasn't immediately good at them. I was afraid of failure all of the time. I was sure that everyone around me was passing judgement on my actions, my products, and myself as a person. I felt crushed by expectations.
I could go on and on. My perfectionism was a rampant disease in my life.
So, if perfectionism was so awful why did I live with it for so long?
Because I was scared.
I was terrified that if I lowered my expectations (from perfectionism to realism) I wouldn't be successful, achieve my goals, receive external praise, or continue to improve. I was scared that I wouldn't be "enough."
The amazing truth is that once I let go and decided that being miserable and successful wasn't worth it, I became a lot happier and more successful in the ways that truly mattered to me. Often that meant letting go of other people's expectations of me -- honestly, that's sometimes still a hard thing for me to do -- but that also helped me to redefine what my own expectations were for myself.
Once I started letting go of external expectations and figuring out what I wanted my life to be, I wrote down my priorities -- I call it my "mission statement." I read it every day. It reminds me what to let go of, what to focus on, and how I want to prioritize my energy. It keeps me centered in myself rather than scanning my surroundings for who I should try to be.
One of the most important parts of my mission statement is this:
"Every minute is a chance to learn, no matter what that minute contains."
I allow myself to be a true student. Not a striving student, not a pleasing student -- a student who is open to learning and changing.
Let yourself be a student. You don't have to know everything, you don't have to strive for perfection, you get to make mistakes, you get to change your mind, you get to struggle and be frustrated, and you get to feel the joy that comes with learning something for yourself rather than for others.
Let yourself be a student.
Let yourself be human.
Let yourself be happy.
If you do, you will definitely succeed.