I am a recovering perfectionist.
I say that because I believe perfectionism to be a life-long condition. Much like a recovering alcoholic cannot allow themselves to have a single drink, if I allow myself to feed perfectionistic thoughts or tendencies, they will grow back to their previous strength. It requires mindfulness and strict boundary-setting to avoid entering old behavior patterns.
Being in school again has me thinking about all this, because school is a big part of where these tendencies came from in the first place.
To provide some context, from Kindergarten through graduate school, I received exactly one B in a course. It was a college science class. We had a guest costumer that semester and everyone who signed up to help in the shop flaked out. As a result, I spent a few all-nighters with her during tech week and missed my 8am science class. Because I missed class for half of the module on genetics, I did poorly on that section and got a B in the class.
My current human growth and development class is covering a lot of ground, so the study guides are extensive. The tests are multiple choice, which is the easiest format, but there is still a lot of information to retain for each unit. Before the first test, I was nervous, so I studied a lot. Each test has built in bonus questions. I got 50/53 which comes out to 100%.
Coming up to the second test I had a lot of personal stress on my plate, making concentrating on studying difficult. The course discussions are extra credit, with a maximum of 15 points. This week in therapy, I was trying to rationalize doing self-care on my day off instead of studying. Technically, I could have made 75% on this test as long as I make 80%+ on the last test and still come out with an A in the class.
So I decided to risk it and not study any more and just see what happened. I got 46/54 on this test, or 92%. Technically, that means I could study an equal amount for the final test and be just fine. But I must admit that 92% pains me a little. Those eight questions I didn’t know feel like too many.
I’m coming from the world in my head where 95-100% is an A, 92-95% is like a B, 90-92% is like a C, and anything below 85% might as well be an F. I can recognize that world is not reality. And shooting for 300/300 in a course where it is possible to get 330/300 is still progress. There was a time when I would have done all the possible extra credit to get as many points as possible. If I could get a 94% on my final test, my extra credit would still give me 100% overall.
I will see how much time and energy I have when the final exam comes around. Giving myself permission to not study this time around when I didn’t know for sure that I would make an A on the test that way is progress. I gave myself permission to get a B on this test and try harder next time. I still can’t give myself permission to make a B overall.
And that’s what I mean about recovering. I’m always recovering. Always trying to pull myself back from the desire to do too much, give too much, sacrifice too much to be good at something. Now I can pull back from that disappointment and objectively know that 92% is still pretty great. That I’m not taking this class as an end in itself, but to give me a background to build on in the kind of work I’m trying to do.
It’s easier outside of school to cut myself a break. I don’t get grades for my performance at work or for keeping up on chores. And this might be one of the elements of call center work which made it impossible for me – metrics too high for me to consistently meet, so that I was always failing. When there isn’t a point system and no one’s keeping score it’s easier to let things slide.
This course is a lesson that while I’ve made a lot of progress on this issue, I still have a ways to go in accepting what is good enough.