Perfectionism and overachievement are common struggles that many individuals face, regardless of their background or ethnicity. However, for people of color, these challenges can take on unique dimensions due to the additional pressure and expectations they may experience. The relationship between overachievement and perfectionism that people of color experience is quite complex. Learn more about both the positive and negative aspects, with tips and strategies for navigating this complicated path.
The Pressure to Excel
People of color often fall into the cycle of perfectionism and overachievement due to unrealistic pressures to excel, both from society and internal pressure. Communities of color have historically faced systemic challenges and discrimination, which leads individuals to believe that they need to work twice as hard to achieve the same level of success as their white counterparts. This belief can often be accurate as we are often judged much more harshly for common or minor mistakes. For example, your boss may expect you to work harder and "prove yourself" constantly. At the same time, the same standard is not applied to your white colleague. Although being a perfectionist can help you achieve the objectives and goals you set for yourself, the problem with perfectionism is that it sets unattainably high standards for what we must achieve without leaving room for mistakes that help us grow and develop.
Mental Health Toll
When the pressure comes from external factors or sources, there can be a fear of judgment or disapproval due to not fitting the societal or cultural expectations of the dominant culture. For example, a common worry can be whether or not you will be accepted for how you dress, the food you eat, and how you talk. This pressure can lead to feelings of inadequacy and propel you to excel academically, professionally, socially, etc., or to "fit in" with the dominant culture. In turn, these tendencies can make many people of color overachievers. However, seeing our self-worth tied to our achievements and work output can take an enormous toll on our mental health. The fear of not living up to expectations, whether self-imposed or external, can be overwhelming, and it can lead to anxiety, depression, imposter syndrome, and burnout.
Overcoming Overachievement and Perfectionism
So, what can you do to help break this toxic cycle of perfectionism and overachievement? Here are five tips to help you navigate these challenges:
1. Become More Self-Compassionate: It's essential to practice self-compassion and remind yourself that it's okay not to be perfect. Mistakes are a part of growth and learning and your worth is not tied to your achievements or accomplishments.
2. Set Realistic Goals: Set achievable goals and recognize that progress is often more valuable than perfection. The SMART method (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timebound) is an excellent goal-setting technique.
3. Seek Support: Remember that you can rely on your support system. Reach out to friends, family, or professionals for support and guidance whenever you face the pressures of overachievement and perfectionism. 4. Continue Building Cultural Competence: Encourage conversations about your struggles as a person of color within your communities, workplace, institutions, or schools. Although it is not on you to educate others about your experience, learning about similar experiences can help you feel less alone in your struggle. 5. Encourage Mental Health Awareness: By talking to others about these struggles, you can help break the stigma surrounding seeking help for mental health issues. You can also go to therapy and explore your issues with a multiculturally competent therapist.
Overachievement and perfectionism can be double-edged swords, especially for people of color. While they can lead to remarkable accomplishments, they can also result in tremendous stress, mental health challenges, and potentially burnout. Recognizing that perfection is an unrealistic standard is essential, and self-compassion is vital to navigating this path. By supporting one another, fostering open dialogues about these issues, and caring for your mental health, you can find a healthier balance between achieving your goals and taking care of your well-being. Author: Dulce Rivera
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