An essay written by Ethan Furlong, Junior at San Clemente High School and President of the Strength in Numbers club

I have a confession to make–this article took me a long time to write. I was afraid of the potential for it to turn out less-than-perfect. This fear became a roadblock in achieving my goal of writing about a topic I am passionate about.

It makes sense that we desire perfection, doesn’t it? Being perfect is glorified. Perfect athletes are the epitome of athletic performance and bodybuilders achieve the peak human physique. Perfectionists tend to strive for perfecting their craft–or even their entire life. However, many perfectionists fail to see the importance of mistakes as learning opportunities and have trouble recognizing that failure is often part of the long and arduous road to excellence. The perfectionist mindset can lead to high levels of stress, decreased productivity, strained relationships, and overall damage to our physical and mental health.

Strength in Numbers is a student club bringing attention toward the “pressure to be perfect” felt by a lot of high school students. Over the years, the club has fostered a community of students willing to share their struggles and learn healthier ways to approach stress and the challenges of life. Strength in Numbers educates on substance use and a variety of topics relating to physical and mental health. I recommend high school students struggling with the perfectionist mindset join the club and follow them on Instagram @strength_in_numbers_oc to learn healthier ways to approach their goals.

When asked, a majority of Strength in Numbers students admitted that much of their stress comes from school. This makes sense, as the academic grading system rewards perfection with A grades and the promise of a good future.

However, most people will not excel in every subject. It’s likely that a few classes will be a real struggle. This past semester, I got a B in my math class and I took it very hard. One of my goals as a high school student had been to get straight-A’s. Thinking back on what led to my grade in the class, I recognized how much I’ve learned and grown as a person in other aspects of my life. I realized that the B–while not “perfect”–marks a time in my life where I was evolving as a person and that this single mark on my report card is not the end-all-be-all measurement of my success or failure. If you’re a student reading this, I want you to know that your bad grades don’t define you either; it’s how you learn from them that does.

If you’re struggling with the pressure to be perfect I encourage you to make your 2023 New Year’s Resolution to not expect perfection out of yourself. You might even want to reframe your definition of success to something that’s more realistic and attainable. Recognize the wins along the way: being able to balance a hectic schedule, learning, and persisting through challenges are accomplishments to be proud of. Just as important, acknowledge that mistakes are inevitable. In acknowledging these facts and persisting through, you can face your challenges head on, recognizing that if you fear failure, you will never achieve success. And who knows? Through acknowledging mistakes in a healthy way and not expecting the unattainable out of yourself, you may be able to achieve the unimaginable.