When I was in college I threw off any pretensions I had of caring about classes, people or things. I knew I wanted to fit in but tried to mask it underneath an idea that nothing really mattered and I didn’t need anyone.
There was still a pressure to succeed, though. It wasn’t from my peers or even received much from my parents. It was a self-imposed notion that I should do well in my classes. Looking back I can see some of it was my perfectionism I had tried to stuff down inside me and some of it was competition with my peers.
I understood that when I got a D+ in Interpersonal Communications my freshman year that wasn’t a positive development. I believed I wanted to do well if for no other reason than I held myself to a high standard. My parents were spending their money to put me through college and I didn’t want to disappoint them.
These feelings of competition with myself and my peers led me to feel lonely. It seemed as though everyone else had things together—they didn’t have to struggle as hard with their studying and in taking tests. Understanding of subjects came easier to them. It seemed every person I talked to in my classes didn’t have any problems; I was the only one.
These feelings continued in graduate school, too. In fact, at some times they felt even more prevalent. There were fewer students and we all took the same classes. We hung out together on the weekends and were friendly. Yet I sensed that there was a comparison occurring in the background amongst the lot of us.
Looking back, I can now see I was wrong about my need for perfection and feelings of being alone in that struggle. Lots of students grapple with feelings of inadequacy. The loneliness that came about because of a belief of not being good enough was prevalent in so many of my peers.
Here are some ideas of what you can do when you feel lonely due to your perfectionism in school.
1. Share your story. Let others know you’re also feeling overwhelmed. It’s not easy to make yourself vulnerable but the payoff from it can be a weight off one’s shoulders. To be open and honest with your friends or family and let them know you’re struggling gives them the opportunity to help you during such times.
2. Know that what you may perceive as a failure doesn’t mean your world is over. As I mentioned, I got a D+ in Interpersonal Communication in the first semester of college. While this may not seem like the end of the world, I was majoring in communications. I couldn’t even get an A or B in the introductory class for my major. I felt humiliated and insufficient. What was I going to do? Well, I changed my major and got all A’s. And now I speak and write to others. From what I’m told, I’m pretty good at communication. A poor performance in one or two classes doesn’t mean you can’t have success in life.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If your perfectionism and any anxiety or depression that comes with it is paralyzing you, don’t hesitate to go to your professors. Let them know what you’re struggling with. Often times they will be quite empathetic and understanding. Go to the counseling center and speak to someone there about your issues and concerns. Therapists have seen this sort of problem many times. And speak with family members if you’re close with them. They can often provide support during what is an otherwise difficult transitional time.
It can feel difficult to control feelings of perfectionism, especially at an elite school where it may seem everyone is better than you. There are feelings of inferiority. But you’re not alone in these feelings. There are people out there who want to help. And the things that you may perceive as failures don’t mean your chosen career path or goals are unattainable.
Like what you read? Want to have Kurt come talk to your group about belonging, loneliness, and mental health? Click here to contact him about speaking at your event.
This blog is an exploration of the subjects of belonging and loneliness. I also look at mental health issues. I seek to provide content to my readers that is informative and helpful. If you don't want to miss anything, sign up for my email list.