Perfectionism, the source of all (my) evil!

7 Feb

As part of the McNair Scholars career seminar at Grand Valley, we were to read a short article on procrastination.  I found it really to be quite a good blog posting on the issue and can be found here.  And as I won’t be talking much about it since I feel that that covers it, I implore you to read it.

Perfectionism doesn’t only lead to procrastination however… It can lead to so many more terrible things.  Pessimism, depression, academic nihilism, self-destruction, lethargy among many others. And when they’re all mixed together, it makes for some bitter soup.

For me, these are especially true.  Let me tell you a little story.

Not all that long ago, and for the better part of my life I sought to be acknowledged for the intelligence that I possess — I felt that it’s what made me stand out.  I didn’t get good grades, mostly due to that nasty thing called perfectionism.  I procrastinated, I didn’t get work done.  Work I did do, I didn’t turn in because it wasn’t good enough and I thought I’d be judged.  My grades started their gradual downfall during 6th grade for me.  I didn’t even care that I got a detention for every 2nd assignment I didn’t turn in.  But then I started hearing “I’m disappointed in you” and “I know you’re smarter than these grades” and “Why can’t you do better?” at the parent-teacher conference (on both sides).  Thus began my fears that I would never be good enough to please those that I sought the praise and acknowledgement from.

And I didn’t do the work except which interested me.  So, I got A’s in a few classes per semester in Jr. High and High School… and that pulled me along.  There was a school I had really wanted to go to for college — because all along this I still valued knowledge as the most important trait one could have — but my high school grades were nowhere near good enough for Grand Valley.  I pulled up my GPA just a little and managed to send out some applications to other places.

And I got accepted to Wayne State.  But the classes didn’t interest me or they were too hard.  I withdrew from all but on by the end of the semester and managed a C in that last one.  Then I didn’t both signing up for the classes for the next semester.  I went to community college.  And it was easy, and I took classes that interested me and got As.  I worked at a couple and were surprised that I could do well.  After a couple of years dilly dallying with nothing to really show for it except some new random knowledge about all sorts of things, I finally got enough credits and a high enough GPA to apply as a transfer student to Grand Valley.

There I was… first year transfer.  Shy, roommate from a foreign country who liked to hang out with other SE Asians, and without my family or friends that I had been hanging out with for the past four years. Alone. Depressed.  The worst depression that I had felt since a little stint I had in a hospital.  I would like to blame outside sources of turmoil for my failings there, but it really was me and my attitudes that caused it.

Then, I missed a few days of classes because I didn’t want to leave my room, much less my bed. I fell behind.  I couldn’t find the will in me to catch up, but I talked to people and I tried.  I was given a second chance and I made the effort to make up past work.  But then time came again when I just didn’t want to get out of bed again… different this time.  I just couldn’t see how I could possibly get an A now, and for me an A was all that mattered.

Over Winter break between semesters, I got some supporting words.  I was told that hey, if Grand Valley didn’t work out I could always try for Oakland University which would be closer to everyone.  I contemplated it for a bit.

I can’t remember if it was over time or right away I realized my splitting path.  I also remembered one of my favorite poems — Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.”

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

It’s always held some significance for me.  Being independent, creative, a treader of new or less travelled paths.  I take that to heart.   In this moment that I’ve been describing however… it was clear that one was the easier of the two to navigate, safer.  I could stay with one of my parents, be close to home, attempt to get the degree from somewhere else where it was just easier to do.

But no, I told myself, slapped myself really.  No.  This is the school you have been wanting to go to since you were 15.  This is the school that you dreamed about.  This is what you want.  You will always wonder what could have been. You will always wonder what would have happened if you hadn’t given up.  You will never ever be satisfied with yourself if you take that safer path.  This would be something that you’d regret for the rest of your life.

So prove yourself, I yelled at me. Prove that you’re worth something.  And who gives a damn if others will never give you their approval. Just freaking do it!

And I did. Two years after that first semester, I’m taking my last make-up class finally.  I learned that I do have what it takes to be an archaeologist (but that’s another story all together — maybe next time).  I learned that I can.  I can.  From a first semester with two W’s and two E’s -> two semesters later, Lambda Alpha Anthropology Honor’s Society -> two years after that first semester, three A’s and an A- and the Dean’s List.

As cheesy as it may sound, I learned that anything is possible as long as the willpower and understanding that the path won’t be easy. 

And maybe a little more importantly,  a ‘B’ is good enough.

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