My name is Derrick Clifton and I’m a recovering perfectionist.
Have you seen the new MyNUResume tool via the undergraduate admissions office? It’s quite cringeworthy.
The ‘resume generator’ tool for prospective students asks you to select an academic focus and one of eight typical extracurriculars. So, I chose communications and debate. According to MyNUResume, I majored in communication studies with a minor and certificate, won the National Debate Tournament, chaired a Model UN committee, founded Promote360, and had three writing internships with big named arts/theatre companies and productions.
I don’t know about you, but that sounds a bit exhausting. Yet I look at my actual resume and it is somewhat synonymous with the “do and be it all” mentality with which many of us approach our time here at NU. I’m not going to bore you with all I actually did, but let’s just say that 7 internships in a little over four years is but the tip of the iceberg.
And when finals ended for me last Wednesday, I had the strangest feeling of all: I had to start “teaching” myself how to relax.
It’s not that the overachiever mindset is inherently negative. I know I’m not alone in navigating college life like the Energizer bunny, just going and going and going nonstop. Honestly, it’s how many of us entered the doors of NU in the first place.
But that perfectionism is like the good angel and bad angel we see sitcom stars interact with when making a potentially boneheaded decision.
Sometimes it’s our better angel. It inspires self-respect and strong efforts. But it can often be a devil, instilling a message that not even your personal best is good enough.
The truth lies in that space between the shoulders where those sitcom angels typically rest. It lies with you, your perception and what you ultimately value in life. It’s all relative.
Perhaps completing a thesis was the sole benchmark for one student, while another wanted to graduate already a successful entrepreneur with a dense resume. And certainly we all have some vaguely concrete ideas for our personal lives and careers when we leave. There’s someone graduating that wants to anchor on CNN one day, and another that desires to head up a global health NGO.
But will it have been worth getting to the destination if you just kept your head down, focusing on putting one foot in front of the other? If constant business meetings prevent you from noticing the growth of your children (should you have any)? If you spent time beating yourself up for every little mistake you made on a spreadsheet?
It’d be a shame to “make it,” then look back to regret all the joys you missed along the way because the destination came before the journey itself. That’s even after getting what we thought we wanted or were supposed to want.
At the end of the day, it is all about mastering the art of balance. Balance between hours at the office and hours spent gardening. Balance between having a few drinks too many on occasion and keeping a healthy exercise regimen. We won’t get it right 100 percent of the time, but we can sure try our darndest.
Northwestern will be a huge learning experience for many of us. And because we’re college students many folks allow us social graces for mistakes that otherwise won’t be afforded us in the real world. Sure enough, the “real world,” more often than not, will be crueler than it is kind.
But that doesn’t make it impossible for even the biggest perfectionist to be even kinder to themselves.
Ed. Note: So, I lied. This column for The Daily Northwestern’s graduation issue is actually my last one for the publication. On a personal note, I wanted to give a tip of the hat to Marina Keegan in this piece, but had to cut words for my limit. If you aren’t aware of her story, she was a columnist for the Yale Daily News that wrote a wonderful piece titled the “Opposite of Loneliness” for the graduation issue of her college newspaper — and tragically died just days before her graduation. Her piece inspired this column and has left an impression on me (and most certainly others) as I prepare to graduate.