Sage Advice

I couldn’t resist sharing this.

The school psychologist, social worker and I team up to lead a social group called self-science. It’s sort of like a cross between character ed and gifted ed. The group explores what it means (and doesn’t mean) to be a smart kid, and how to navigate some of the speedbumps that come along.

On the agenda for last week: Perfectionism. It’s good to want to BE good. It’s good to want to win, or to be the best. They are positive motivators, which help us in what several in the field call “The Pursuit of Excellence.” The trick is in recognizing when the pursuit of excellence works its way into perfectionism. What could we gather as a group? Perfectionism starts when bad or negative things happen as a result of our pursuit for excellence. Maybe other things don’t get done. Maybe we’re unkind to people around us. Maybe we tell ourselves mean things.

Further down in the discussion, then, was how we can use positive self-talk to help ourselves out. That’s when some magic happened. As a group, we were able to come up with this continuum for completing tasks. Grown-ups, take note. You will see yourselves in this continuum. I know I do.

PERFECTION – truly, impossible to achieve. Nobody gets here. Our brains know that (even if our hearts don’t sometimes).

OUR BEST – isn’t this what everyone tells us to strive for? Isn’t this what our teachers, parents and peers ask of us? But c’mon. Can we really expect this of ourselves EVERY single time? On EVERY single spelling assignment? And is EVERY single meal I cook for my family my BEST? No. That’s when we need to give ourselves permission to settle for

A JOB WELL-DONE – yes, we know what “our best” is. But it’s not always realistic. Let us be satisfied with something that reflects our efforts, but acknowledge that we occasionally have better things we want to do with our time. Like play. And read. And sleep.

A JOB DONE – sometimes, we make things more difficult than they need to be. Yes, creativity is wonderful. Yes, it can be interesting to make tasks more complex. But there are times when it just makes sense to get through it and get the task over with.

A JOB DONE WITHOUT EFFORT, SKILL, or TIME – I loved that the fifth graders game up with those criteria. Time, effort, and skill. Because really, aren’t these the standards by which we should judge our work?

A JOB NOT DONE – just as there is one end of the continuum, so must there be the opposite end. What we haven’t gotten to is how perfectionism can lead us to this end. Funny, isn’t it, how our pursuit of the highest level of task performance can create an obstacle so big it leads to the lowest level. That’s going to take some more thought.


Our lunch session was one of those days that left me once again completely amazed by the insight and depth my students bring to the table. Once again, I marveled at how much I can learn from a bunch of 10-year olds. Once again, I am excited to see where these conversations go, and which new discoveries await.

Published by Lainie Levin

Mom of two, full-time teacher, wife, daughter, sister, friend, and holder of a very full plate

3 thoughts on “Sage Advice

  1. Lainie,
    It took me years to discover that my ability to not succeed is actually because I’m a perfectionist. I’ve been working on the fact that performing “a job done” on a repetitive basis is so much better than achieving “perfection” only once or twice. Great job with your students! I plan to have my 8 year old read this. I think she could really benefit from it. Thanks!

  2. Love the list.
    Love your lunchtime meetings.
    Love that your passion is education — nobody I know does it better.

  3. Why isn’t there a middle? Something in between Job Done and Job Well Done? Today I want to shoot for Job Done Pretty Good. It’s just that kind of day.

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