Asking for a Friend: Help! I'm a perfectionist - can I also be happy?

  • This week we give tips on showing you appreciate your parents and dealing with the pressure you place on yourself
  • If you have difficult, embarrassing or awkward questions to ask about teen life, send them in anonymously, and ‘Friend of a Friend’ will do their best to help
Amalissa Hall |

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There's no such thing as perfect - and don't let the quest for perfection make you unhappy.

Hi Friend,
I’m a perfectionist – I always have been. 

I want all aspects of my life, like school, family and friends, to be as excellent as possible. It gives me a sense of purpose and something to work towards. 

However, this year I’ve been feeling increasingly unhappy as a result of trying to keep everything together. Do I need to change my attitude about being a perfectionist, or is it possible to be happy and perfect? 

Little Miss Perfect

How can I be successful when I failed my mock IB exams?

Hi Little Miss,
Let me start by saying this: there’s no such thing as perfect.

This is especially true when it comes to fluctuating things like grades – and people. No matter how much effort you put in on your end to try to “control” some situations, there will always be external factors that will affect the outcome. Your grades can be affected by class averages, your family members may be going through their own issues that can interfere with your relationship, and your friendships are always developing and changing. 

You must be exhausted from constantly feeling like you have to control these things. No wonder you’re unhappy. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with having goals to work towards – in fact, having goals is important for overall motivation. 

However, it’s a good idea to be clearer about your goals. 

My friend and I flirt - but is it for real?

What exactly are you working towards? Is there a particular class that you want to ace? Do you want to spend a certain amount of time with your parents? Do you want to be a more supportive friend, or meet more people outside of school? Outlining clear goals like this will make you feel like you are moving forward with your progress when you achieve something, and give you that sense of success. 

Consider, too, who you are trying to be perfect for – yourself, or for others and how they perceive you? If it’s purely for others, you need to re-evaluate because I can guarantee that everyone is too busy worrying about their own problems. 

It’s not healthy to strive for “perfect”; it doesn’t exist, and not achieving it can be disappointing at best, and have a massive impact on your self-esteem, happiness, and mental health at worst. 

Instead, strive for excellence. You can always do better, and improvement is a worthwhile goal, but forgetting about “perfection” prevents the excess stress of meeting unmeetable expectations.

I hope this gives you some clarity,
Friend of a Friend

Give yourself a break! No one can handle everything all the time.

Hi Friend,
My parents have always been supportive of me, especially at school and in my hobbies. I feel really lucky that they just encourage me to do my best and let me do my thing. 

But I feel like I owe them so much for their relaxed kind of support, and so I’m scared to do anything wrong in case they turn around and change their mind. 

I want to prove to them that they made the right decision not to push me too hard. How can I get over this constant fear of disappointing my parents if I make a bad decision, or fail?

They’ll Be There For Me

I'm totally burned out and can't study. What should I do?

Hi They’ll Be There,
It sounds like you really appreciate your parents and their support for your choices. If they’re so pro your choices, I feel like you also have to trust that they’ll be there for you if you fail! 

We all fail sometimes, but experiencing that is an important life lesson and key to our overall improvement. 

Failing doesn’t mean you can’t do something, it means you have limitations. From there, you can figure out where you went wrong and try again. 

You say your parents let you do your own thing, so there’s little to suggest they would turn on you if you made a mistake. It could be that, because you don’t have much pressure on you (perhaps especially compared to your peers), you’ve created this fear of disappointing them as a way to motivate yourself to keep working hard. Don’t use fear as a tool to keep going! You’ve probably been doing great so far which is why your parents are the way they are.

If you really are concerned about failing and disappointing them, speak to them! Ask what they would do if you performed badly. 

I think you need let go of this fear, trust in yourself and your parents, and embrace the idea of failure.

Best of luck,
Friend of a Friend

If you have a question you’d like answered (about anything at all), please send an email to [email protected] with “Asking for a Friend” in the subject line. Don’t worry, you will remain anonymous!

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