Perfectionism: The Antithesis of Growth

I hate making mistakes. Life feels so much easier when I get things right the first time without a struggle. I feel in control and closer to perfect when I am free of mistakes. But let’s be real, perfectionism and a life free of mistakes is at best a fleeting illusion. Although I’d much prefer to glide through life doing everything right because that would make me feel more comfortable, I know that it’s an impossibility. Through my work teaching children I have also learned that a perfectionism is no fun, and leads to absolutely no growth. We can’t truly learn without making mistakes. So while part of me honestly dislikes making mistakes, another, now bigger, part of me understands that human growth only happens when we are willing to try something new, to make mistakes, and to embrace the struggle from time to time.

During my first week of class this year I asked my 3rd grade students to raise their hands if any of them liked messing up. Nobody raised their hands. I said I didn’t really like messing up either, and asked why we don’t like to mess up. Students answered: “It means I’m not good at it.”, and ” I’ll be embarrassed and frustrated” and, ” It means I’m not a good person.” That last one really pulled my teacher heart strings. Why should any of us ever feel that a mistake means we’re inherently bad?

I followed up our discussion by telling them about a company that actively strives to have it’s employees make mistakes when designing a new product because through the mistakes they can troubleshoot and create the best possible product. I related to them that I hope to have this kind of environment in our classroom, except more fun and less “adult-worldy”. Of course I don’t want students to purposefully make errors without trying to solve the problem at hand, but I am happy when an error is made within true inquiry based learning. Making mistakes in a safe learning environment leads to better solutions, a stronger sense of ability and confidence, and joy in learning. I should note that I do strive for excellence in myself and in my students. Excellence is not perfection. Excellence simply means “high quality” and I believe that doing your best (even when it’s not perfect) and working hard to produce the best possible outcome is a form of excellence. On the journey to excellence, and it is a journey, I believe that children are naturally better at mistakes than adults. In my experience,  they tend to bounce back from errors with minimal damage to their egos because their mind are elastic and still being molded. Adults can learn to be comfortable making mistakes too, but it’s hard (I’m speaking for myself here).

By the end of the year I asked my students what they thought of making mistakes. They said: “You learn from your mistakes”, “When you make a mistake you always try again.” and “It’s OK, just don’t do it on purpose!”.

So fellow adults, let’s take a step back and learn from our children. Let’s set out egos aside, throw ourselves into whatever task we have at hand and gt comfortable being a little bit wrong from time to time. Let’s remember that it’s not only OK to make mistakes, but it’s also an integral part of being human. If we choose to grow and learn from our mistakes, we are better of for having made them.

The joy of learning. Together.


If you liked what I said here, check out this article by Dr. Richard Curwin.

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