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Perfectionism versus Excellence

On January 26th, the Harvard Business Review posted a brilliant article regarding the rise of perfectionism in my age group. It comes as no surprise (even though it should) that my generation has record high mental disorders. Most people hold extremely high standards for their performance, work, appearance and anything else that can be judged.  It comes as no surprise that my generation has a fear of not being perfect. 

But the horrible secret is that perfection is impossible.  We discussed the anxiety and mental problems that can arise with this quest in a class last year. We discussed how each person has different factors that shape how they act and manage activities. One of these factors and potentially the most hardwired one was perfectionism. We looked at how that one factor altered other factors (achievement needs, need to be liked and avoidance were huge complimentary factors), and the results were direct and frightening. 

In the horse world, the running joke is that perfectionists can find their calling in the equitation or hunter rings. The subjective scoring makes this a challenge for perfectionists, but at what costs? The idea of perfectionism is to avoid failure at all costs. The desire to do things right is not enough. Things must be done right as according to excessive standards. It comes as no surprise that this creates massive amounts of stress.

And still, we partake in a sport that fuels this on all levels. From performance to appearance, the subjective scoring systems critique every second, every centimeter, every more of our presence in that ring. Perfectionists are ambitious and hard-working, but often overthink, overanalyze, and are too self-critical. They may set expectations too high which leads to massive disappointment. By placing unreasonably high demands on yourself as a rider, or feeling more motivated by winning (or beating others), you fail to look at the big picture - improvement, and excellence.

In 2015, my barn made the decision to switch zones we were showing on. We went towards the competition, the unknown zone. It was a bold choice but one that was needed. I was heavily motivated by winning and I still am to some degree. But that winter, my family, and my coach sat down and we reevaluated goals. We looked at purchasing a project for a while but eventually found a horse to lease in the Children's Hunters and to help me grow as a young rider.  

It was this meeting at the following days that allowed me to recognize what was achievable yet challenging. I realized that I did not want another year of the same courses and competition just in an attempt to perfect it and win every time. I wanted to grow as a rider, go to different places, jump some different jumps. In that, I placed less value on winning and perfecting the same tricks and more value on perseverance, adaptability, and diligence.  Although perfectionism creates meticulousness, hard work, and dedication we as individuals must create the motivation and flexibility that allows our perfectionism to be used in a healthy manner.

The next post will be a very exciting one as it will be about my trip to Ecuador through the I.B.H. program. I have another few days left and am having so much fun! I look forward to sharing it with you on the 16th!


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