A Debate Over Perfectionism

Anna Quindlen once delivered a speech to college graduates encouraging them to stop trying to be perfect. My question is: is she right? More importantly, is it possible?

The other day for homework I was assigned to read a speech from my book that had been delivererd by Anna Quindlen, a former New York Times columnist, to a group of graduating students from Mount Holyoke College. In her speech, she encouraged kids who had been striving for perfection their whole life to break away from that ideal, and to try to become themselves. 

Personally, I couldn't help but feel a bit sad after reading this speech. But also, a bit confused: is Anna Quindlen right? 

Kids pursue their interests in clubs, activities, and sports, in hopes of becoming a valued leader in that group, and having another thing to tack down onto a college application. Why? Because it's important to be able to get into a good four year college in order to have a solid career. But don't kids today also pursue interests in clubs purely for their own desires, and not their future motives?

You might think, of course they do, but it's a bit hard to distinguish what is the truth from the standard. It's no surprise that there is a huge pressure on teenagers these days to excel in academics and activities and have a huge acculmation of volunteer hours to boot. 

In Anna Quindlen's speech, she more or less asked the question: "And for what?" In her speech she made the point that after graduating from college, people usually have a career that goes nowhere special or important. Sure, they might make a lot of money, but they start to lose passion in what they want to do. 

But even after graduating from college, dropping the ideal of perfectionism is a huge risk to take. And before college, it's almost impossible. How could you not want to be perfect, when perfect is almost regarded as standard in society? How could you not want to be the student who participates in drama club, Student Council, NHS, participates in sports, and volunteers multiple hours? How could you not as an adult want to be promoted in your job many times and earn the most money? 

While humans generally have strived for perfection, the answer is that all these things, while impressive, might not make you happy. Not only that, but striving for perfection could make you lose sight of what you really want out of life. Anna Quindlen quit her job at the New York Times to spend more time with her three children--and we all know that kids grow up fast. 

Is there a way that you could balance the basic human desire to be perfect and also truly know who you are in today's fast paced society? 

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Vicki Strong September 27, 2012 at 05:26 PM
Chloe: There are really three different concepts here that need to be separated: perfection, success and excellence. I think you are confusing perfection and success with excellence. Striving for perfection is a set up for failure as perfection is unattainable. Unless you're God! It is also very possible to be successful without being excellent. (Think of retail marketing, for example, I don't think anyone could say Walmart is not successful, but is it "excellent?") Do you want to be Walmart? I think if we focus on the things we love, excellence naturally happens in all we do -- from our friendships, to our families, to our work.
Kris Janisch September 27, 2012 at 05:34 PM
You bring up some good points there Vicki. Thanks for chiming in.


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