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A Perfectionist: How to Deal with an Imperfect Past?

25 December, 2016
Q Salaam, how can one deal with an imperfect past if one is a perfectionist? I was always academically very able, alhamdulillah, but due to personal problems I ended up gaining an average GPA which meant I could only go to an average school. It had always been my dream to attend an Ivy League School. Fortunately, I was able to gain entry into an Ivy League Grad school on a scholarship and have now successfully completed my studies. While studying at grad school, I never gave any thought to the past. However, now I have finished, I keep wishing I had somehow done better as it affected my first school life and made me have many bad memories. This may sound crazy, but at some point in the future, I would like to study the subjects I did average in and push myself to get the best grades. But this would just be as a hobby as I enjoyed the subjects and would not have any effect on my career which is unrelated to these subjects. As I'm a perfectionist, I feel I will always beat myself up about this, and this will not change. I know some people are better at letting go things, and others still do not care for academic success, but I do unfortunately and am embarrassed when people ask about my past school and GPA. Is there any way I can leave this in the past?



As-Salamu ‘Alaikum,

I completely understand where you are coming from. Academic success and perfectionism is extremely important to high achieving students such as yourself. However, you must understand that as Muslims, we must believe in the divine decree of Allah (swt). We are never truly in control of everything that goes on in our lives. Therefore, we certainly do not know what the best for ourselves always is. Allah (swt) says in the Quran,

“And it may be that you dislike a thing which is good for you and that you like a thing which is bad for you. Allah knows but you do not know.” (2:216)

Allah (swt) also says in the Quran,

                “…But they plan, and Allah plans. And Allah is the best of  planners.” (8:30)

Always be thankful

Allah (swt) says in the Quran,

                “So, hold that which I have given you and be of the grateful.” (7:144)

Therefore, if your plan initially did not work out, be thankful for what you have been granted by the Mercy of Allah (swt). Perhaps the change in courses lead to a career which is better suited to your personality, life style, and life overall. And perhaps the courses you had wanted to pursue would not have satisfied you after a certain period. Therefore, always be thankful.

Think about the positives that have come about. Allah (swt) defers you from something that you want because He (swt) knows that it is not right for you, your future, and your Hereafter. Think good of Allah (swt) and rest assured that a change from your initial plan is for your betterment. Good tidings will surely come your way with patience.

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Live for today. During the day pray with a wakeful heart, recite the Qur’an with understanding and remember Allah (swt) with sincerity.

Change your outlook on things

You need not be embarrassed by your past. Let me ask you a question. Why are you embarrassed? Why do you want to beat yourself up for this? You have done well in the “normal” undergrad school and have entered the Ivy League grad school with a scholarship, which clearly implies that you were able to perform exceptionally well. So, your perfectionist nature is still intact.

You need to see yourself from a different lens. You need to let go of the past. As I said earlier, the past is nonexistent. You cannot return the tears to the eyes, nor can you reform a burnt paper. You cannot change it. Therefore, brooding over it will lead to an unhealthy present which can perhaps affect the future negatively. It places you in a frightful and unhappy mental state.

In his book, Don’t be Sad, Dr. Aaidh al-Qarni reminds us to surrender ourselves by believing in preordainment. He reminds us that if we have done everything to the best of our abilities, and still things go against our planned course of actions, then we should have firm faith that it was meant to be. For thoughts, such as “Had I done this, this would have happened”, are from Shaytan. Rather, think that “this is the decree of Allah and what He wishes He does. And it is for my benefit because he loves me.”

Search for Happiness from Allah

Allah (swt) says in the Quran,

                “Verily, in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find rest.” (13:28)

True sadness and despair tend to deviate us from believing in the power of Allah (swt). So, remember Allah (swt) often. Your degree of happiness depends on your level of connection with Allah (swt). So, if your past distracts you from happiness, makes you feel embarrassed, call unto Him and tell Him of your worries, and seek guidance from Him.

Allah (swt) says in the Quran,

                “…Indeed, Allah is Hearing and Seeing.” (58:1)

Weigh your Options Carefully

I understand that because you were stressed and unable to focus on some courses of your interest, you would like to revisit them, and learn and excel at them. Although it is only for your enjoyment, think carefully before you proceed. For example, would it be better to perhaps do something which will benefit your current career and enhance your development in the field? This is just one option.

However, I have seen people in the past who completed Bachelors in Engineering, in Architecture, then decided to volunteer at hospitals, which eventually generated interest in medicine. Therefore, these architects by profession entered undergrad once again for obtaining Bachelors in Science and Health Sciences and successfully became doctors. On the other hand, I have also met people who were determined to be doctors until their last year in undergraduate studies, at which point they decided to completely change their fields and become Clinical Psychologists, or even Engineers!

So, nothing is set in stone. Again, we plan, and Allah (swt) plans, and He (swt) is the best of planners. Always have a positive outlook.

Therefore, do not despair. Weigh your options carefully. If pursuing the courses which you have left behind satisfies you and you see benefit in pursuing them, then do so. However, when in doubt, always visit professionals such as career counselors who are there to help and guide you. Take wise use of the resources institutions provide for students.

Be proud of your past!

This is really necessary in your case. Although it is believed that the past does not define you, it certainly makes you who you are. Be proud of your past! Although you faced hard times at home, you still managed to work hard, get manageable grades, and pull through successfully. You even got a scholarship and entered Ivy Grad School! Why are you embarrassed? The hard times gave you a new direction, a new plan and an exciting change in your life. The glass can be considered half empty or half full. Which way do you want to see it?

Also, what others think of you does not matter! I personally think that your embarrassment stems from your perception of what others might think of you. What others think of you does not matter. You know your strengths and weaknesses and the struggles which rendered you successful. So be satisfied with your own achievements and do not let others’ perceptions of you distract you.

In conclusion, be content with the success you have experienced despite hard times, and you will be the richest of people!



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About Madiha Sadaf
Madiha Sadaf in an undergraduate student at the University of Ottawa, enrolled in BSc. with Major in Biology and Psychology with Minor in Health Social Sciences.