Catholic Homeschool Articles, Advice & Resources

Avoid the Perfection Paralysis Detour on the Road to Success


Seton Home Study Guidance Counselor Nick Marmalejo has a practical roadmap to avoid frustration and the perfection paralysis detour on the road to success.

Many of us crave perfection.

Whether it be the perfect cup of coffee (I assure you, I have found it) or getting perfect marks in our studies, the pursuit of perfection is laudable and noble as an end in and of itself.

There is a point, however, at which the fixation on perfection at all costs becomes debilitating. Frankly, it is an affliction that is not uncommon in the Catholic homeschool community as I perceive it, and addressing this topic is what this article is about.

Paralysis of Perfection

Working on any task with an ideal of the objective in mind is fundamentally a good thing. In practice, an ideal assists a person’s efforts to strive towards a tangible goal or achievement. It keeps us inspired.

Whether it’s bringing a home remodel to fruition, cooking a fancy dinner, or receiving a perfect grade on a test, success produces within us a sense of pride. In contrast, very few of us appreciate or seek to accomplish shoddy work.

Things begin to go awry, however, when we make the perfect the enemy of the good, when our pursuits become all or nothing, perfection or bust. Students that take this task often find themselves frustrated that what is seemingly perfect is often illusory or elusive, especially when they spend untold hours studying for a test or working on a paper only to receive something less than a 100.

When this pattern is repeated often enough, paralysis sets in. Frustrated, students no longer wish to send anything in for grading or even study for the subject. They feel their efforts are futile, that no matter how hard they work, nothing from them will ever be good enough. This level of despair, while understandable in some ways, is not healthy.

The Bigger Picture

Before I continue, let me state unequivocally that Seton is a demanding program, one that can challenge and push students, if they desire, to their academic limits. When I speak to parents or colleges and need to quickly explain Seton’s program, I often state that Seton prepares students for college. Some students tell us that their college coursework is easier than Seton’s and that their academic preparation, though tough, was excellent.

So while it is true that an emphasis on having the best transcript possible has its legitimate place, its importance needs to be seen within the bigger picture. An integral part of education is learning from our mistakes. No one becomes a master overnight.

Every master, whether he be a maker of violins, a plumber, or an academic—once served their turn as a novice or apprentice. They made mistakes and built upon them. In fact, many great artists and master craftsmen see imperfections in their work even when others do not. They continue to look for ways to improve.

With respect to Seton academics, when trouble spots arise for a student, the first thing to do is clarify expectations. Call or write the counselor of the particular subject in question. Ask probing questions about what precisely is expected and how to move forward. Progress may not be easy, but progress is possible. Students always have a better chance of succeeding academically when they are willing to seek help and guidance.

What to Do if You’re Already in a Rut

If you or your student is already plagued by too much perfectionism, what then? My advice is not only to call Seton for help, but also to take an honest inventory and look at personal expectations.

Remember, students need to serve their turn as beginners. It’s easy to be impatient with ourselves when it comes to academics, especially when we think we should be further along than we are in our studies or compare ourselves to others and their progress.

The particular life path of each of us has its own set of crosses, ones unique to us as individuals and to us alone. The playing field is not level, and academics can indeed be a cross for some. With that in mind, know that at Seton we are listening to your feedback and continually working to adjust our courses to make the coursework still challenging but less burdensome.

In the meantime, when difficulties do arise, please contact Seton to let us help you. That is why we are here.

Regardless of the rut in which you may find yourself, it’s our job at Seton to get you back up and on the road to success.

About Nick Marmalejo

Nick Marmalejo
Nick Marmalejo, a history major, graduated from Christendom College in 2001. He holds a Virginia Teacher Certification and lives in the Shenandoah Valley with his wife and three children.

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