First off, I have basically the best parents ever. Somehow, they managed to raise me with high expectations for my academic performance without pushing me or pressuring me to be something I'm not. I guess it's always been the way they're proud of me when I do achieve that has made me want to succeed. That, and I've always wanted to succeed for me. I don't want to let anybody down, including myself.
But over the years, it became easier and easier to let myself down. In elementary school, getting good grades was something that just happened. I got a ton of awards; I got chosen to read a poem I wrote in front of the entire school; I was one of three DARE essay contest winners in the fifth grade.
In middle school, the classes got a little tougher, but I still came out on top.Once I got to high school geometry, though, I learned the meaning of stressing over grades. Every year it was something. Chemistry, AP Biology, etc. I always pulled through with A's, but middle school and high school had taught me that there were plenty of the "smart kids" who could rack up the A's. Imagine my disappointment at learning that there were other, more involved, more outgoing, more noticeable kids who could perform just as well as I could academically.
Sophomore year, I learned that I was in the top 5 in my class. Oh--the realization dawned on me--this was a competition. I hadn't been comparing myself to those other "smart kids" for nothing. They were my rivals now. I had to hold onto that spot with an iron grip, not because I wanted the recognition so much as because now I knew I had it. To have it and lose it would be far worse than never to have had it at all.
But I can't pretend that that spot was a driving factor for my perfectionism. It had been there a lot longer and it has lingered past high school. I remember thinking that once high school ended, so would my internal pressure to be the highest achiever. Because in high school, I was building a resume'. I was showing the collegiate world what I was made of. I was in it to win it. And win it I did. WKU gave me a hefty scholarship, and my duty was done.
I remember thinking that college would be so much harder than high school, that getting straight A's would be unachievable, which was sort of a relief to me. But so far I have managed to maintain that lifelong 4.0 that has given me such a sense of fulfillment. Until now.
I am going to get at least one B this semester, and no, it's not because I went to Europe and became a party animal. I took Writing 482, Writing Workshop. It seemed to be an easy class: turn in some pieces of writing, critique classmates' work, just the same as the writing classes I've taken at Western. And probably, if I were at Western, I would have an A in the class. But the professors over here do grade harder; I'm not just saying that. And with writing professors it's always a gamble for what kind of writing they consider good. All I know is that I've gotten B's on all the assignments I've turned in. It's infuriating because it's not something I could have studied for; it's "Here's my best writing. This is as good as it's going to get."
British Studies is a horse of a different color. It's a course that involves crazy studying, presentations, group work, and a term paper. And I may get a B in there, too. I've gotten A's on my presentations, most of the small quizzes, and one of the exams. I got a B+ on another exam, and there's one more coming up. And I'm horrified to see what I got on my term paper. [It's not that I didn't try, but I could have tried harder. I did submit a partial rough draft and got a critique on it, which is more than many of the honors students did. And I (sort of) worked on it for a while, as opposed to many who started the weekend--or even the night--before it was due. I think it was decently written (Sara read it and thought so, too). But, like I said, in retrospect I think there are things I could have definitely done differently to make it better.] Over all, though, I've put a lot of work and effort into British Studies, and it has shown.
But do you see what I did there? "Which is more than many of the other honors students did," "as opposed to the many who...." Comparisons. Just like the comparisons I made last night at the fancy dinner, when others received awards for leadership, academics, writing, etc. Of course I had to compare myself to the very few people who were recognized for their achievements. Am I really that arrogant, that I have to be disappointed when anyone outperforms me? That I have to feel like I've let myself down? That I feel like I've fallen from some former glory?
Yes, that's what perfectionism leads to: arrogance, jealousy, senseless comparisons. It leads to a lack of confidence, a sinking feeling in one's stomach, and a bunch of time wasted worrying.
But since when was anyone expecting me to be perfect? A friend of mine pointed something out about the WKU Honors College students here at Harlaxton. She said that we seemed to be way more focused on our grades in class than actually learning anything. We don't ask questions because we're curious or interested; we ask if this will be on the test. Of course I didn't deny it. I didn't even feel ashamed of it. We do what we have to to get the grade. But isn't that the flaw in the education system? I was talking to another friend who pointed out how warped all our (our as in everybody's, not just WKU kids') perceptions of grades are. C is supposed to be average, yet everyone treats anything below a B like it's an F. And, come to think of it, that is pretty crazy.
So I've rethought my responsibilities as a student. Going into next semester, in which I'm taking basically all major/minor specific classes, this is especially important. Because responsibility #1 is to concentrate on actually learning. Responsibility #2 is to put forth my best effort. And responsibility #3 is to maintain the grades I need to keep my scholarship. So of course I'm still going to try to get the highest grades I can, but it will be because I'm engaged in what I'm learning, I'm giving it my best shot, and I'm motivated to keep what I've earned, not because I have to achieve the highest levels of academic perfection or else I lose my self-respect.
And really, in a few years grades will be irrelevant anyway. I'll graduate, get a job, and it'll be a whole new ballgame. So the thought that I'm only as good as my last report card is probably one of the most ridiculous lies Satan has ever put into my head. What is even more ridiculous is the fact that I've listened to it all these years. But I think a lot of us listen to it. And we need to stop. Now. We need to break these chains of perfectionism, because the only perfection we'll ever know is in heaven with Jesus. And--thank goodness--that doesn't depend on anything we can do. It's all up to God. Without Him, we're all insignificant. And so I'll quit talking now, and leave the rest to scripture:
Philippians 3:3-143 For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— 4 though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.
7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in[a] Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.