How millennials can deprogram themselves from society’s unrealistic demands for perfection

How millennials can deprogram themselves from society’s unrealistic demands for perfection

I started my first full-time reporter job four years ago. I accepted the job greedily, wanting to escape freelancing and enter the world of salaries, holidays, and sick pay. For the first time since leaving university, I was about to earn a decent living. I was on the ladder.

I was on a probation period for the first few months, pretty standard practice for employers. But in my head, it was a test. I worked flat out in the hope I’d be kept on. I berated myself for little mistakes. When I did well, I wanted to do better. I became increasingly stressed and ended up with insomnia.

I’d always been taught to work hard, get good grades, and try to strive for the best. The problem is, the best never felt good enough. Despite getting good feedback from my bosses, I never felt satisfied enough to accept it—and I always felt I could do more to improve. For a while, I thought the problem was me. But as new research shows, shifts in societal expectations have a lot more to do with my feeling this pressure.

Indeed, more young people than ever before are pushing themselves to be perfect. On the surface, this drive looks internal, the product of personality and family pressures—as if we were all born as high-achieving Type A personalities. But actually, researchers are seeing how the forces of our materialistic culture—and emphasis on the market economy—are shaping young people today.

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