Meg Lamberger '23

Philosophy Major, Theology Minor

Meg LambergerI call myself a “recovering perfectionist.” Ever since I could remember, if I cared about a project, I either overworked myself to mental and emotional exhaustion to ensure the final product (and grade) was one I was happy with, or I would procrastinate to the point of panic so I could blame the less-than-perfect result on the lack of time I had to complete it. 

Fall of 2019 was my first year at the University of Portland, and I kept a rigid routine to keep from falling into these extremes. My days were spent either in class or at the library, hyper-focused on school. My high expectations for myself manifested in the strict schedule I used to make sure I got everything done—and done well. I obsessed over details, ensuring everything was in order, wrapping my sense of self-worth in a perfectionist identity.

I began the Spring 2020 semester with the same daily grind, but when we transitioned to online learning in March, the disruption in my routine felt like cause for panic. I had set up a system, a reliable routine, a recipe for productivity. Now I was stuck at home with unreliable internet and easily distracted by the state of the world. I struggled to craft a new working rhythm, I couldn’t focus at home like I could at school. Everything I turned in was fine, or good, but nothing felt good enough. The compromises I needed to make to get everything done meant I was forced to lower my standards, and it took a mental and emotional toll. It was hard to feel like myself when it felt like my work and, by extension, my identity didn’t meet my standards.

The stress of the pandemic was reflected in my final grades, and I was devastated by anything less than perfect. There was a cognitive dissonance that took place: rationally I held compassion and understanding for myself. I knew I wasn’t alone in struggling to adapt, and it was (and is) perfectly reasonable to have a hard time focusing during a global pandemic. Emotionally, however, I still felt disappointed in myself. I wanted to be the exception to the rule, to be unaffected by the changes that were happening, both globally and at school, and continue like normal. 

I considered taking time off for fall semester, stubbornly wanting to avoid adjusting my expectations for the term again. After deliberation, however, I decided to stay. Fall term was an exercise in practicing grace when completing projects, especially when assignments didn’t go as planned, and in practicing compassion if the grades I received weren’t the grades I wanted.

Instinctually, I am still a perfectionist. My standards for myself are still impossibly high and I haven’t figured out how to let go of doing everything yet, but 2020 has taught me (and forced me) to slow down and focus on doing my best instead of doing things perfectly. I am working on granting myself grace and taking pride in both the process and the final product.