Wednesday, August 28, 2013


Making Mistakes in the Overachiever's Generation

My generation has been taught two very conflicting views: that it is okay to make mistakes and that if we plan to succeed we need to be overachievers. As we are constantly reminded, the job market is lacking, so we need to be able to set ourselves apart from the others. Now, at first it makes sense to be able to make mistakes. We need mistakes in order to learn. As the saying goes, we are only human. But is that what we are expected to be? I recently made a small mistake, but am facing extremely harsh consequences. Does the punishment fit the crime? Not so much. If teachers do not respect a student's ability to make mistakes, they are fostering not only overachievers, but perfectionists. This is very unhealthy. So here I am, just getting over the fact the I used to be a huge perfectionist, coming to terms with the idea that it is okay to make mistakes, when my teacher decides to fail me for one.

Here's the story: I worked my butt off all summer for a class. I didn't turn in a single assignment late and I was maintaining a B average. I used to be upset with a B, but as I said, I am learning to come to terms that doing my best is enough. I had been putting in my best effort and this is what I deserved. Then, despite some procrastination, I worked very hard on my final paper for the class, hoping to keep or improve my B average. Unfortunately, I mixed up the due date with another class of mine and turned it in two days late. I emailed my professor and explained the mistake. Keyword here: Mistake. We all make them, but new zero-tolerance policies do not allow us to. Now, had I made a habit of this I would expect to be treated like a lazy student who has no disrespect for due dates. But that is not me. I work hard and even on the occasions that I procrastinate, I never turn in late work. So, expecting that my professor would understand and likely just lower the grade I would receive on the paper, I explained the situation to her. Unfortunately, she was not as understanding as I had hoped and she refused to even look at the paper I put so many hours of work into. So, then I sat frustrated because not only did I just waste a lot of time, I was going to fail the final. Then, I did some math and realized that even if I fail this paper, I can still pass the class. I wasn't happy at my lost efforts, but I could live with it. A few days later, I received an email that grades were posted. I received an F. She choose to give me a 0 for a class that I put months of effort into, just for a SMALL MISTAKE.

Here's the problem, many teachers will certainly deduct points for late papers, but it is this kind of professor that is causing problems in our generation. How can we accept that it is inevitable and acceptable to make mistakes if we are so heavily penalized for them? This pushes us into perfectionism which is not healthy. Of course, in many cases this state of perfectionism and constant need to avoid mistakes both leads to anxiety and causes us to miss out on valuable learning experiences that come from making mistakes. However, the only learning experience from this situation is that mistakes are unacceptable and that is a lesson that should not exist.