“My perfect little baby!” exclaims a caregiver.
“I need to get a perfect score on this test,” says a student.
“My face isn’t symmetrical,” an individual complains to their friend.
“You don’t look smart,” a teacher makes a comment to a student.
What does being perfect mean? Who determines what perfect is? Were we born to develop into perfect beings? When and where does this end?
The perks of going to a private school are the opportunities given to its students. But, of course, it comes with a cost, which is what I realized years after graduating from one.
Every morning, I’d find an excuse not to go. A silly child you’d say, but it felt like my body was repulsed from staying in such a place. Bullied and alone, I just wanted to stay home. What’s ironic is that I chose to attend that school; I begged my parents to take me there because I associated its location with happy encounters, but little did I know I was up for some toxic competition.
As I went from one class grade to the next, I found myself assimilating into the school’s culture. A culture characterized by teachers who favor the “perfect” students. Who are they, you ask? Well, they’re those who obey the rules, ace their exams, and most importantly, get a place on the honor board, a board that I felt proud to be a part of until it stopped one day. The moment I wasn’t recognized as an honor student, I was in survival mode. The aim was no longer to learn but to exert as much effort as I could to continue getting praise and validation from teachers. I found myself in an internal battle with perfectionism and anxiety. The further I strayed from retaining my status of a “perfect” student, the more I felt anxious, worthless, and like an imposter in an environment where I should instead feel safe to embark on my creative side and enjoy the process of learning. My self-perception depended on how they viewed me as their student, or so I thought. And the more I controlled my anxiety or dismissed it, the more anxious I got. A vicious cycle you may call it.
Zuhra, what’s your point? What’s the moral of this story?
I'm here to emphasize the need to let go of that control. Feel the anxiety. Process and experience it. Remind yourself that they’re temporary unless you choose to actively carry them with you by convincing yourself that avoiding it will bring you relief. Let go of that need to please passersby. You know your capabilities and aspirations more than a stranger who “knows” or “knew” you for a few months or even minutes! Yes, there are teachers who have the audacity to place judgment on who you are within minutes. What your future will look like, your entire livelihood basically.
I’d like to end this by saying, it literally takes a village to raise a child. So, raise them with love. A love that’s not transactional, but instead, a form of love that instills them with confidence, courage, and resiliency. To educators: reinforce your students’ efforts through means other than praise and validation. How? Have a conversation with them, and evoke curiosity about the progress of their work or the final product. Let them recognize the voice they have in the work they put out. A comment like “That’s amazing, I’m so proud of you!” to a comment like “What was your favorite part about completing this project” can modify how a child perceives their efforts and who they are in the academic realm. Of course, this can extend as far as their self-perception in interpersonal relationships.
Written by Zuhra Al Yarabi
Edited by Emiru Okada
Graphic by Claudia MacPhail