November 22, 2018


Dear Nikki,

I am so obsessed with being perfect. I always want everything to turn out amazing. But it doesn’t always! I want to be the top student in my classroom of twenty kids, but I’m just 3rd place. I also want the leading role in my school play, but I NEVER get it!

I want to be perfect at EVERYTHING. Can you please help me not to be such a perfectionist?!

Tales From A Not-So-Perfect Life

Hi Tales From A Not-So-Perfect Life,

OMG! After attending Westchester Country Day for a while, I have seen a LOT of smart, talented kids brought down by perfectionism. I mean, you should always try to do your best. That’s how you succeed! But, you can totally take it too far and that’s super stressful.

My advice to you is to be SUPER careful about trying to control things that you really have no control over. Take your class ranking, for example. First of all – third in a class of twenty kids is FANTASTIC! 🙂 But also, you can’t control how well other people do. All you can do is your very best. And even your very best might not land you the top spot, but that’s okay!

Look, failure is a part of life. In fact, most major inventions have only come after their inventors failed a whole bunch of times. So maybe it helps to think of failure as the next step leading to success. There’s a cool book you can probably find at your library that’s about the inventions we use all the time that only exist because someone messed up. It’s called Mistakes That Worked by Charlotte Foltz Jones.

I like to remember something my art teacher would always say: “Think about the process, not the product.” Some teachers will give you points for the work you’ve shown, even if your final answer turns out wrong. If you’re showing you understand the process, that’s the most important thing. Or a more fun example: if you’re in the school musical, you spend a couple of months rehearsing, right? That means learning new songs, dances, lines and warm-ups. You also make friends, have crushes, and build memories. At the end of it all, you perform the show, maybe even a couple times. The performance (aka product) matters. But what you’ll really remember is the whole process of creating the show.

When you’re thinking like a perfectionist, you’re usually thinking in a super black and white way, like things are all good or all bad, all perfect or all failure. But that’s not true at all! Being third in your class is NOT a failure! It’s pretty darn great, and everyone who’s lower than you are would probably be pretty thrilled with third. So when you feel like you’ve failed at something, or like something has been a total disaster, try to put a positive spin on it.

One way to do this is to imagine it’s your friend who “failed”. Imagine your BFF came to you and said, “I tried out for the Dorothy role in The Wizard of Oz and I only got cast as the Wicked Witch! I failed!” What would you say to her? Probably something like, “I’m sorry you’re upset. But first of all, auditioning was super brave of you. And you still got a great part! I think the Wicked Witch might be even more fun to play. Have you practiced your evil cackle?”

Treat yourself with the kindness you’d treat your BFF. And when you forget to do that, it’s okay. Just try again. It’s a process. 🙂

Do you struggle with perfectionism? How do you react when things don’t go the way you planned? Tell us in the comments!