Independent Thoughts: My civil war with perfectionism (part two) – how much is “too” perfect?


I have been a college student for five years and am scheduled to graduate from Webster University this upcoming May. During these past years, however, the “Great Hargas War” has taken place and escalated to uncontrollable moments at times. In the last edition of Independent Thoughts, I illustrated how this “war” pertains to my ongoing struggle with perfectionism. This internal psychological schism formed two versions of “Christian Hargas.” One version is intelligent, thoughtful, inspiring, energetic and dedicated. The other is very polarizing, frustrated, stubborn, constantly worried and dominating.

As mentioned in part one, the three areas I mostly struggle with perfectionism are work, study and organization. My career at Webster and St. Louis Community College can verify many moments where personal mandate became a problem for everyone else involved

I have hope that the “real” Christian Hargas will prevail in the end. Something this deep and disturbing, however, needed more attention. The following examples, correlated with my three areas of struggle, lay out the details about my mindset as a perfectionist in the academic setting and how “standard protocol” can be viewed by others as “over the top” and “too much.”

The Student of History

I am a student of history, which people can view differently from being a history student. Webster helped me regain my love for history that waned for several years. The wonderful professors in the department helped me identify the passion I once had, but almost lost, by allowing me to work by “my standards.” On the surface, this concept does not seem problematic. When one reads between the lines, however, it is easy to see the existential threat that grew more apparent over time.

Two to three page written analyses, intended to be smaller assignments, turned into lengthy 10-page essays. Longer research essays became even longer, ranging from five to seven pages to 15-20 pages. Exams became a roller coaster ride as I turned four to six paragraph responses into 30-page dissertations on a regular basis. In the beginning, I consistently ran out of time when taking exams because I could never finish before the class ended. I now do exams at the Webster University Academic Resource Center, with unlimited time, because that became the “standard.”

Even the testing center, however, is not enough at times because closing hours and appointment limits can prohibit me from finishing an exam in one sitting. I normally spend three to four hours on one exam, and will sometimes have to return to the testing center the next day to finish, which could take another two hours.

Standard research became hardcore investigative journalism. There is something enjoyable about the adrenaline rush I get, doing work like this, but professors were concerned that I was overworking myself. I told them everything was fine and how this was normal for me, but did not bother to consider their advice at any point. They turned out to be correct because I found myself surrounded by a stack of 15-20 different history books for one assignment, every time. It never occurred to me that this was problematic because it was, and still is, the “standard.”

Moving around the Media

History is not the only field of study where I do this. I also study Media Communications and realize things get just as intense. As a student of media and journalism, I made a personal obligation to study and research every realm of the institution to the best of my ability, based on the “standard.” This, once again, does not seem problematic on the surface. The existential problem, however, once again is apparent when one reads between the lines.

“Standard” news analysis became a study of over one hundred news organizations on a daily basis. Constantly reading and watching the local, national and international media, I noticed a sudden increase in migraines that correlated with my developing knowledge of local, national and international events. The 24-hour news cycle became so interesting to me, and still is, I thought I could maintain 24-hour news analysis and research every day. I succeeded in doing this, but what did I really win other than migraines and strong disdain for many of the organizations I study?

“Standard” research applies to the study of Media Communications exactly as it does within the realms of History” it turns into hardcore investigative journalism. As expected, many professors in this department worried that I overworked myself, and they still worry. Even though I still love the rush of adrenaline, I once again failed to consider their advice at any point.

Simple five to seven minute speeches turned into 30-minute seminars because I have trouble telling stories or sharing information in short spans of time. I trained myself to tell complete stories in only this way, and it is hard to change mostly because I do not want to. Most of the time, I have been cut off because I go way over the allotted time.

The professors do not stop me simply to be rude or harsh; I do not view it that way anymore. They noticed that students and other spectators might stop paying attention or grow tired of me. I picked up on the drastic decrease of engagement I have with other students. I do not intentionally act this way to make people mad, it is just who I am.

In reality, I do this with any and every academic subject I am involved in. Media Communications and History are the two most recent examples because they are my primary focus in this arena. However, they each have their own set of issues that make things much harder than they need to be. I do not know if I can ever change, though there is hope that it can happen. I now realize, however, how much this affects others around me, which has been a big wake up call. The most important thing I have done was told the truth to the people who care about me the most. They now understand the way my mind works and are willing to work with me to make sure I can at least contain the perfectionism.

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