It began at school, with A-star expectations and a horror of failure. Now we’re on social media platforms, locked into a game of mutually assured depression.
During many job interviews, it’s common to be asked: “What’s your biggest weakness?” It’s a horrible question to respond to on the spot. We know it’s a trick, and the answer isn’t: “Sometimes it takes me more than two hours to stop looking at my phone and get dressed after a shower,” or: “I spend my free time constructing elaborate revenge fantasies.”
The cheat’s answer of choice, the panicky pick that puts you in a better light than the truth might, is along the lines of: “I’m a perfectionist.”
Sure, a little nervy, a little obsessive, but ultimately a detail-oriented workaholic who will not leave the office until the project is completed to the highest possible standard.
However, if you’re a millennial (broadly defined as anyone aged between 18 and 35), there’s a good chance that perfectionism really is your biggest weakness.
A study published by Thomas Curran and Andrew P Hill found the majority of respondents were experiencing “multidimensional perfectionism”, or the pressure to meet increasingly high standards, measured by a widening collection of metrics. The study linked this with the growing number of cases of mental illness among people in their 20s, including eating disorders, anxiety and depression. Perfectionism is a weakness. It’s making us ill.
It’s easy to blame social media for this. The study found that a lot of the perfectionism centred around the participants’ need to “measure up” to their peers, and that they tended to judge others harshly, too.
Anyone with an Instagram account can probably relate to this. We’re coming towards the end of a decade in which we’ve been encouraged to think of our public life as a performance instead of a participation exercise. We know how it feels to envy other people and their celebrations, achievements and holidays, and that our craving for validation leads to feelings of isolation.
Justin Rosenstein, the engineer who created the Facebook “like” button, described a “like” as “bright dings of pseudo-pleasure”, and he has rationed his own social media use, comparing Snapchat to heroin.
– Daisy Buchanan
Photo source – Flickr.com