Breaking Perfection

Written by Taylor Sherry

I was teaching an Upstage class a few weeks ago (on Zoom of course), and I asked the class to identify one success they had in the run through, and one thing they could improve for next time. One of my students, who is an undeniably talented performer, raised their hand and stated with such a discouraging tone, “There was nothing I did well in that run.” That statement instantaneously brought me back to a time when I was first introduced to my perfectionist/people-pleasing personality. 


As the child of two parents that are actors/directors/choreographers. I have taken part in many shows since the age of 4. I grew up surrounded by a friend group that was addicted to growth and success – we were all theatre kids. That drive to be the best and get the part was exhilarating for me and my friends, but what we failed to do was celebrate the inevitable failures we faced. This perfectionist mindset actually worked against me, holding me back from pushing myself to the next level. It’s like I was an archer trying to hit the bullseye. If I wasn’t 100% sure I would hit that center circle, I would lower my bow and return another time to try again. I could have saved myself a whole lot of anguish and comparison had I just missed the bullseye that first time, and kept going with abandon.


Back to my student, I was sincerely and objectively impressed with their performance. But, their self-criticial assessment immediately took me back to being unsatisfied in myself as a child. I look at my students now, and worry about their inner monologues – a constant replay of similar negative critique. How they may be tearing themselves down inside over perceived imperfection of a performance. Having been through this, and knowing how detrimental this train of thought can be, I work extremely hard to encourage those deeper questions now, asking them as a group to dig deep and question that dissatisfaction. 


The words kids hear now can stick with them forever and, as a teacher, I take that as a very serious responsibility. 


Speaking to children in an encouraging way, that invites them to fall and stand back up again and again is how I believe the perfectionist mindset will subside. 


Rather than trying to cross the finish line, we must show them that the finish line doesn’t exist. Continually working towards becoming a better human, student, friend, or wherever is the excitement in the race of life. They must learn to celebrate the small wins and failures every day, or nothing will ever be enough when they grow older. Let’s teach them now, so when they are older, they know they are enough, and no single win or single failure defines who they are.