Being a perfectionist means putting in 100 per cent and not being satisfied until your efforts have been rewarded with a result that meets your standards. Sometimes the standards you set for yourself are too high, your goals too grand, and the means you afford yourself to accomplish those goals are not generous enough. However, as a perfectionist, you don’t take these barriers into consideration. When you fail, you only blame yourself.
This need to achieve perfection, although damaging, allows a student in the traditional education system to thrive. Since your intelligence is determined by a mark out of 100, a perfect score is what you aim for and a “good” mark simply isn’t good enough. As a self-identified perfectionist, this attitude was prevalent throughout my schooling, from kindergarten up until my final year of university. I studied hard to get the grades I wanted and the validation that came with them. I used my A’s as concrete proof that I was capable of achieving anything I set my mind to. It wasn’t until this past summer, that I suffered an identity crisis, one that would change my entire outlook on life.
Summer 2018, though technically a break from my classes at UTM, wasn’t a break at all. When I finished my exams at the end of April, I had a plan in mind. I was finishing up my third year of undergrad and looking to pursue a career in law after graduation. I had wanted to be a lawyer from a young age and I knew I had all the credentials needed to make my dream a reality. I had the grades, I had the references, and as a History and English student who lives and breathes essay writing, I wasn’t worried about the personal statement. This meant all that was left for me to do was write the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). This didn’t worry me either, despite warnings from fellow students, who insisted the test was unlike any other. I was scheduled to write on June 10th, meaning I planned to give myself just a little over a month to study. This may sound crazy, given the fact that most people take the better part of a year to prepare. However, I’ve always been a good test taker, so I was confident that I’d be fine. I refused to take a prep course, so I simply bought a few LSAT practice tests and hit the library.
At first, it started out rough. I wasn’t getting the marks I was used to. Not only was it nearly impossible to achieve a perfect score (180), but scoring in the 80th percentile was a challenge. 160 was the magic number, the score I thought I needed to get into Osgoode, one of the most reputable law schools in Canada. Most law schools recommend you score a 155-160 to even be considered, but of course the higher the score the better. I remember all the tears I shed those first few days, as I convinced myself that my scores ranging in the low 150s meant that I simply wasn’t smart enough to do this. I was so used to everything coming easy to me, especially when it came to school, so I felt helpless. It took weeks of me having to rewire my brain to think analytically and weeks of constantly having to reassure myself that a bad practice test score did not mean I wasn’t capable.
On June 10th, I wrote at McMaster University, and that was a huge mistake. We were situated in the basement, in an old classroom with those desks you pull out from under your seat. Not only was I shivering and wiping away my runny nose the whole exam, but I was also writing on my lap because the test booklet wouldn’t fit on the table. After about five hours of scratching away at my paper, I escaped back into reality. I remember thinking I failed the test, just due to the circumstances I’d written in. Prior to the test, I told myself that if I scored above a 155 I’d be happy and, despite my fears, I scored just shy of a 160. However, being a perfectionist, I wasn’t satisfied. I decided to put myself through all the stress for a second time, thinking I could certainly do better in more comfortable conditions. However, when I retook the test for the second time in September I had been ill the week of and I ended up scoring the same. At this point, I decided that since perfect wasn’t possible, I should just submit what I had and hope for the best. I had a 4.0 average, I had collected stellar references from my professors, and I had spent hours meticulously crafting six different personal statements (one for each school) which creatively poured out my hardships, accomplishments, and aspirations to the admissions representative. I was confident that, despite my lower LSAT score, my other credentials would grant me an acceptance somewhere, if not Osgoode.
Little did I know that come December, only a month after submitting my application, I’d hear back from my top school. Osgoode sent me an acceptance letter in record time, considering I wasn’t expecting to hear back until the spring. All my stress about not being good enough or smart enough or perfect enough was discarded and replaced with relief and reassurance. I learned that my self-worth cannot be determined by a number on a page and that my value as an individual involves so much more than just how well you do on a test.