Are Millennials Being Crushed Under Their Own Unrealistic Expectations?

A 2017 study in the Psychological Bulletin found that perfectionism has increased over generations and that millennials are most likely to succumb to the pressure to be perfect. While it might sound like a good thing, here’s why this could be a problem for you at work and beyond.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Sometimes called the “Strawberry Generation,” us millennials have a reputation for being unable to withstand stress in the workplace, and doing the bare minimum just to get by. But recent studies are saying otherwise. Millennials definitely care about how they perform at work – maybe even a little too much.

“The way I see it, the work I put out has my name on it, and I don’t want to be associated with anything that’s less than perfect. When promotion-time rolls around, I want my name to be the first one that comes to my boss’ mind,” says Tanya, 23, a graphic designer.

The psychological cost

Defined by the 2017 study in the Psychological Bulletin as someone who has “a combination of excessively high personal standards and overly critical self-evaluations”, being a perfectionist at your job can sound like a good thing. And the truth is, it can be; you are likely to go the extra mile and double-check for mistakes, which are great habits, but it can take a toll on your psychological well-being in the long run.

According to the study, there is growing evidence that the increase in psychological ill-health of young people may stem from the excessively high expectations they hold for themselves. Another 2017 study by The University of Western Ontario also found correlations between the quest to be the best and increased rates of depression, anxiety and suicide among young adults.

But why do millennials expect more of themselves? It will come as no surprise that the quest for likes and doubletaps has fueled the need for validation and the desire to compare ourselves with our peers. In fact, multiple studies have concluded that validation on social media is strongly linked to how worthy or worthless users feel. This means that when the real-life equivalents of likes (i.e., praise and positive feedback) stop coming, people may start to feel inadequate.

The social cost

What’s more, striving for perfection won’t just affect you, but also those around you. Psychologist Jennifer Kromberg writes in Psychology Today that since the expectations and demands of perfectionists are extremely high, this can make their partners and friends feel inadequate and pressured. And while perfectionists tend to be supportive and gracious when it comes to their friendships, they can also be overly competitive or expect their high standards from others.

So what are we to do?

When it comes to coping with perfectionism, psychologists advise viewing the situation from a third-party perspective – how would you advise a friend with unrealistic expectations of herself? Chances are, you would tell her not to be so hard on herself.

Also, instead of fixating on minute details, take a step back and look at the bigger picture to rationalise how “the worst that could happen” maybe isn’t so bad. Here’s a good rule of thumb: if it likely won’t matter five years from now, it’s not worth having a full-blown panic attack over.

A concrete way to keep your perfectionism in check is to make a habit of regulating your behavior. For example, rather than triple-checking every detail on a given work project, you can limit yourself to a set amount of time to review and revise your work. With these strategies, you’re on your way to being great without the health costs.

Images Text By Claire Soong.