I’ve heard my fair share of stories and quips from my classmates surrounding the academic culture of revising and revising and revising and revising and revising… and infinitely revising to try to achieve perfect assignments that will receive perfect grades, which will make us perfect students. 


No. Perfection is impossible.

Assignments really just have to be “good enough.” As students, we need to put effort in, but not obsess over the final product. And, I say this with an incredibly clear understanding that this is much easier said than done. Maybe if I read this paragraph a few (hundred) more times, I’ll actually start to believe myself.

In all seriousness, now that I’m in my fourth year of university, I have a slightly more stable relationship with my grades and scholarly self-image than in my previous years. But, I still have major beef with Turnitin (does any student like Turnitin?) and have a lot of anxiety about the finality of submitting assignments. For example, earlier this term, I wrote an essay, stared into the evil and intimidating Turnitin dropbox, and subsequently decided my essay was a flaming pile of garbage. As a result, I basically rewrote the whole assignment the day it was due, wasting countless hours obsessing over it when I could (and should) have been doing literally anything else. 

On that note, I hope this list of tips and tricks — that I’m working on implementing into my own life — is helpful for my fellow perfectionists in academia, who want to start setting healthy boundaries between themselves and their roles as students.

  1. Set yourself an early deadline for final submission a few days before the assignment is actually due, if possible. And then, just submit the dang thing. This will keep you from editing and revising your work a million times before realizing you hate it — because you’ve read it so many times! Your work probably doesn’t suck. And, even if it sucks a little bit, this assignment is not synonymous with your identity as a human being. 

  1. Experiment with situations where you can experience what you perceive as “failure” in safe doses. For example, if you have time-related perfectionism, take your time getting to class one day and see what happens if you’re late by a minute or two. People are inherently imperfect, and life gets in the way. You must realize that no one rational will hold a lack of perfection against you. 

  1. Recognize that (in most cases) no one is going to die if your assignment or test isn’t perfect. And, don’t stress about the finality of submitting assignments so much that each Turnitin submission process turns into a battle. We’re all in this institution of higher learning to learn, not to be perfect. Why would we pay UBCO exorbitant sums of money in tuition if we already know everything? 

  1. “Check yourself before you wreck yourself.” Get to know your habits and perfectionism triggers, and know when to take breaks or seek out help from others. It can be very helpful to check in with a trusted friend, family or community member, or mental health advocate to help you get out of your own head. I’ve asked my family members to gently point out when I’m spiralling with perfectionism, and to become more firm in pointing it out if I am in denial of being in a perfectionist headspace. 

  1. Fill up your schedule as much as you safely and healthily can — and don’t only fill it up with school and work activities. As a few examples from my past week: going for a walk in a new neighbourhood, getting caught up on TikTok celebrity gossip, and treating yourself to a Costco hotdog are all valid activities that will round out your schedule and keep you from totally obsessing over whatever current project has the possibility to trigger your perfectionist tendencies. Be reasonable with your time commitments, take breaks from the scholarly grind, and don’t spend too much time on one thing.

  1. Ultimately, be kind to yourself and others who deal with perfectionism. For example, if your friend is always convinced they’ve failed an exam and then always seem to get As, don’t lash out at them. They’ve probably been beating themself up all week over their fear of failure. Remind your spiralling scholarly perfectionist that they did everything they could reasonably do on the exam, and feeling uncertain about one assignment does not equate to a psychic connection with the grading professor or teaching assistant. Graders usually realize that students’ assignments will vary, and will also often recognize brilliance where a student might not. And, if this “friend” that I speak of is you — treat yourself the same way. We don’t know until we know — don’t make assumptions and spiral over them!

It’s common to fall back into perfectionist tendencies once in a while. But, the more we work on seeing ourselves as separate from our assignments, tests, and grades in university, the healthier our relationships with ourselves will become. We are all human beings, not machines. And hey, even ChatGPT makes mistakes.