Jacobson Center Leads Discussion on Perfectionism
Published: Thursday, March 15, 2012
Updated: Thursday, March 15, 2012 07:03
This past Wednesday, March 7, Gail Thomas of the Jacobson Center and Cait Kirby ’12 led a discussion on “Perfectionism & Academic Stress” as part of the Jacobson Center’s continuing lunchtime series “Workshops for Academic Success.” The event, presented in association with Disabilities Awareness Week, stressed the pitfalls of the need to be “perfect” compared with both disabled and able-bodied students in Smith’s high-stress academic culture.
A small group gathered in Seelye to take part in the conversation. Led by Kirby and Thomas, students and employees from the Center for Work and Life and Jacobson Center discussed various factors that fuel and complicate perfectionism.
Kirby’s motivation for developing the event was her desire to create a forum for students to discuss and recognize the challenges faced by different kinds of learners.
“As part of disabilities awareness week, we wanted to talk about the disabilities aspect of perfectionism,” Kirby explained. “Often when you’re a disabled student on campus, you’re striving to reach the level of an able-bodied person and then trying to achieve perfection. You’re striving for [an] ideal that an able-bodied person can’t reach.”
She elaborated by discussing some ways in which disabled students can be at a disadvantage in trying to be perfect.
“On college campuses, able-bodied students are up all night working on papers, essays or exams and there are students on campus with disabilities who physically can’t pull an all-nighter,” she said.
Gail Thomas, a learning specialist at the Jacobson Center who organized the event with Kirby, acknowledged that many students on campus attempt the impossible in pushing for academic perfection.
“Smith students take great pride in their achievements, but often have trouble seeing the difference between a desire to excel and perfectionism,” Thomas said. “One of the most destructive aspects of perfectionism is [having] a sense of self worth that is mostly based on achievement. It’s important to remind yourself of who you are without your achievements and to ask yourself what grades can and cannot measure.”
Thomas suggested that participants take time to “break the link between self-worth and achievement” outside of the event by completing a series of prompts about themselves “without mentioning their achievements.” These exercises included completing statements such as “I believe grades measure …” and “I believe that my happiness and ability to define success reside [in] …” with students left to fill in their own blanks.
Thomas also emphasized the importance of positive self-talk. She passed out a sheet, which listed some helpful self-affirmations such as “I can excel and be creative.”
Student reactions to the event were positive and many shared personal experiences. Many of the participants expressed the stress they feel in completing assignments.
“I must read every word of an article,” said one woman. “If I don’t, it feels like cheating.”
Another spoke about her anxiety upon beginning papers – she recalled her usual line of questioning: “Do I know enough?”; “I need to have the paper already written in my head.”
At the end of the conversation, Thomas and other college employees emphasized the resources available through Smith for students. The Center for Work and Life touted the success they have had with their online toolbox. Thomas lauded the services offered by the Jacobson Center and added that she is available for individual appointments.