DR. WALLACE: I’m 13 years old and can’t seem to put an end to my perfectionism. When working on schoolwork, I often find myself spending hours on assignments, making sure that every last detail is correct. Things become especially difficult when I have to do a reading assignment because I’ll catch myself rereading the same page over and over again until I feel confident that I fully understand it and will remember the material. I feel like I’m learning a lot by doing things this way, but I’m also wasting a lot of time.
My parents tell me that I need to break my perfectionistic tendencies because once I enter high school my coursework will become more challenging and time-consuming, and so I won’t be able to spend hours trying to perfect everything I do. The problem though is that I don’t know how to stop. Not doing things perfectly makes me feel lazy and like a bad person. Is this normal? — Perfectionist, via email
PERFECTIONIST: Well, based upon your letter, I know you are indeed not at all lazy nor a bad person whenever you find a stopping point you are unsure of. In fact, you are definitely one of the most diligent students in class, and likely overall at your school.
I suggest that you try to step back from the individual assignments and look at the big picture. Get yourself to think beyond the assignment at hand. Do this deeper thinking when you have time away from your studies. Perhaps do it on a weekend walk or during some light exercise. If you find yourself traveling in a car or bus and have time to decompress, use that time for your big-picture thinking.
When thinking this way, start with the end in mind, not the beginning. By this I mean, why are you studying so hard in the first place? What are your goals? Are you trying to get accepted into a specific university, for example, or are you simply working hard out of personal pride?
Realize that to best achieve your goals, time management will be very important. Read up on time management strategies online and seek to apply these to your studies. Once you realize that the end goals are more important than perfection on each small and often mundane school assignment, your perspective and correlating attitude may be positively impacted.
And if you do feel that you continue to struggle in this way even after considering these suggestions here, by all means consider getting assistance. You can start by speaking to a trusted teacher or counselor as a first step. There are also great professionals available these days to assist those like you who may have compulsive tendencies that can benefit from professional guidance and strategies. Thank you for writing here, and do continue to pursue the resolution to this matter now, since it won’t likely go away until you achieve a paradigm shift via one avenue of another.
I’M SO SAD AND NOW WORRIED
DR. WALLACE: This week my best friend’s mom passed away after battling cancer for a few years. I have been friends with her ever since elementary school and saw the many good and bad parts of her life the past few years.
Through her mom’s sickness I tried to be as supportive and loving to my very close friend as I possibly could be. I saw firsthand how heartbreaking this time was in her life, and I felt so sad that there was little we could do about it beyond providing everyone involved comfort, love and support.
Now that her mom has passed, I am unsure of how to be there for her. I am worried that I will say the wrong thing and upset her more than she already is grieving. I also am not sure how much I should be there for her as I want her to feel comforted but also want to give her time to process this on her own.
How can I support her well through this extremely challenging time in her life without accidentally saying or doing the wrong thing at the wrong time? She’s already been through so much. I don’t want to ever trigger any further sadness or pain for her. — A worried best friend, via email
A WORRIED BEST FRIEND: I trust your best friend absolutely knows where your heart is, and that she truly knows that your love and friendship for her, her mother and your entire family was heartfelt and pure. She knows how good a friend you are and how you feel.
I suggest that you speak to her directly about the questions you’ve posed to me here. I feel there is no need to stay quiet and guess what she would prefer, so simply ask her respectfully. Let her know that you are there for her at any time but that you also want to be sure to not be overbearing right now, which might mean giving your friend some space to grieve and adjust to her life now that her mother has passed.
In any case, if you speak to her directly about this in a heartfelt way in person and accompany the conversation with a big hug, both of you will exit the discussion more comfortable with how to proceed from there. As you speak to her about this it is very important that you listen to her words very, very carefully, as she may directly or indirectly give you instructions on what she would prefer.
As with most things in life, communication is a huge key. Speak directly to her, and then from there follow her lead and be there as needed for her. I trust she will know just how important your friendship is and that when the time is right for her, she will lean on you again to help her through this sad and difficult juncture of her life.
Dr. Robert Wallace welcomes questions from readers. Although he is unable to reply to all of them individually, he will answer as many as possible in this column. Email him at [email protected] To find out more about Dr. Robert Wallace and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.