The Dark Side of the Pursuit of Perfection



“Being happy doesn’t mean that everything is perfect. It means that you’ve decided to look beyond the imperfections.”


Are intense expectations causing students to crack under pressure? Why is everyone in the rat race to reach the summit? Why is the young blood striving for perfection? Is perfection the ultimate source of one’s happiness? These are the few questions that anyone who desires to become perfect must ask themselves before they blindly set out on the path to attain this elusive entity that the society calls “perfection”.

The obsession that one has to be perfect in every academic, co-curricular and social endeavour is instilled into us as infants and slowly builds up enormous pressure as we grow up and step into the competitive world. The pressure to excel at times manifests as demoralization, alienation or conditions like anxiety or depression even at a small instance of failure. This article not only talks about the pursuit for academic excellence, but also encompasses the desire to achieve perfection in every sphere of life be it social acceptance or living up to parental expectations.

The first thing that would come to your mind when we talk about perfection in a student’s life is his academic proficiency. The cut-throat competition just never seems to end. However hard you might have worked, there can always be someone who outshines you. Think of it in this way: The world is not a racing track; it’s a highway. No matter how fast you go, there will always be some cars ahead of you and some behind you. Your car has a capacity, a maximum speed. There is no point in running your car that has maximum speed of 120kmph at 160kmph without realising, that in the end, we all have to reach the same destination. Working hard does not bring along with it the guarantee that you’ll get into the college of your dreams. Unfortunately, the only criteria that the society assesses you on is your grades and the ever-increasing cut-offs only add to this pile of stress. There is a dire need for us to realise that everyone is good at something or the other. For all you know, he might be an artist or an athlete, who burdened by unnecessary and unrealistic demands, might just disappear into the herd. As Steve Jobs rightly said, “Your time is limited so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important have the courage to follow your heart and intuition, they somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

Earlier a small setback used to mean disappointment, or feeling the need to try harder next time. But now, for some, a small mistake can assume serious proportions. This can plunge youngsters into the vicious pit of depression and anxiety. Recent surveys show that the suicide rates on college campuses are skyrocketing, placing depression and anxiety at the forefront of conversations about mental health on campuses.

One thing we fail to realise is that the true challenge is dealing with the intense pressures and expectations that often emotionally devastate college students. A duck appears to glide calmly across the water, while beneath the surface it frantically, relentlessly paddles. On a similar note, students feel pressure to be “effortlessly perfect”: smart, accomplished, fit and popular, all without visible effort. The seemingly calm faces of those around you just add to the pressure and in some way or the other compel you to portray a similar picture of yourself to the world. This is popular as the Duck Syndrome.

It’s human tendency to compare oneself with others on a regular basis, in all aspects. It starts at home with our parents comparing us all the time with our siblings, cousins and friends. In the era of social media, the comparisons have escalated from occasional to nearly constant. What we do not realise is that these social media platforms provide very carefully curated depictions that do not provide the full picture.

 Extra-curricular activities, although an integral part of college life, have 2 kinds of pressures associated with them. You must have come across people who are involved in almost everything cool yet seem to lead their lives effortlessly. Watching others manage their time effortlessly between extra-curricular activities and studies pressurises other students. What they fail to understand is that time management is something that doesn’t come so easily to everyone and this paves the way to self-doubt. Even those continuously involved in such activities, have to deal with a different kind of pressure. Students tend to obsess themselves with unachievable targets leading to self-driven pressure to better their previous achievement.

In our attempt to match the norms and definitions of perfection set by the society, we as individuals lose our own identity. In the race to become the next Barack Obama, Albert Einstein or Dhirubhai Ambani, we kill the potential to become the first of our kind. In our attempts to stand first in class or make it to the centre stage in the group dance, we might end up achieving something mediocre at the cost of excellence in the field of your passion.

So, before you decide to follow the Jing bang, stop once to ponder about what is it that is at stake! Ever tried drawing water with a sieve? Howsoever illogical it might sound to the rational mind, this is something each one of us has been trying to do since time immemorial. We wear ourselves out in our attempts of becoming something we just aren’t meant to be and in this futile process end up losing our uniqueness.

We aren’t strengthened by this method of competitiveness; we’re being strangled by it. We are so lost in this never-ending competition that we fail to harness our true potential. Stop and ask yourself! When will it be enough? For whose satisfaction am I in this pursuit? Is it fulfilling? And that is when it will dawn upon you that this perception of perfection manifests into an inhuman amount of pressure that contorts even the smallest slip-ups and mistakes into life-shattering monstrosities. And what eventually beckons is the dark side of the pursuit of perfection.

~Sanyam Gupta and Aditi Mahajan

Sanyam Gupta is an Electrical Engineering undergrad studying at IITD. Besides writing, he is extremely passionate about football and theatre. He believes that staying happy and having a positive attitude towards life is the real key to success.

Aditi Mahajan is a Chemical Engineering undergrad at IIT Delhi. She is a passionate writer, an avid reader, a trained Hindustani Classical singer and is fond of dancing. With the ambition to make it big someday, she believes that nothing can go wrong when the attitude is right.




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