I am a recovering perfectionist. I am the five year-old who wears matching legging/turtleneck combos with bright white keds and a bow in my perfectly blow-dried, bobbed hair to school every day. I'm the six year-old who sets my own alarm and gets Jake up for school, makes sure he showers, and feeds us both breakfast so that Mama can stay in bed a little longer--the seven year-old who keeps a journal of EXACTLY what I do every single day of summer camp...entries that sound like an alibi report: "Woke up at 6:43am. Got out of bed. Walked to the showers. Put my hair in a towel. Walked back to my cabin and waited for the other girls to get up. Went to breakfast. Ate cereal." The eight-year old who comes home from school every day and sits down at the kitchen counter to do my homework without being asked. Mom says, "honey, you can have a snack or play for a while first, you know." No, I tell her. I need to be responsible and get my homework done, first. Work first, then play.
We have spelling tests every Friday in elementary school, and I only make less than 100% on maybe two. I MUST make a hundred so I can walk down the hall to Principle Comfort and get three skittles out of the "Excellent Spellers!" dispenser in his office.
In 3rd grade (I'm 9), I write this goal/plan for myself. Apparently these aren't my best spelling-moments, but I know the word "verify" and use it correctly, so...
My buddy Seth and I teach ourselves math (we turn a janitorial closet into our "classroom") from 4-7 grade, and even so we make high A's in calculus five years later, securing our spots as Valedictorians.
I'm the little girl who takes piano lessons for SEVEN YEARS and never progresses past Level 3 because I can't perfectly master a song on any first-try, which is so frustrating it paralyzes me and keeps me from practicing. I sit at the piano bench SOBBING night after night and Mama comes and sits down with me and I say things like: "I just want to do it right the FIRST TIME. I don't want to have to PRACTICE." And every Sunday, sweet Miss Donna (bless that woman's soul) asks if I have practiced this week, and I tell her "no, can we just practice together during lessons?" People. I practice *during* my piano lessons until I am sixteen years old and finally decide it is okay to quit something. For all those years I can't quit (or practice on my own) because I'm not...perfect.
There are a thousand things I haven't tried for fear of...failing. A dozen sports I might have loved; a handful of wakeboard tricks I could have mastered; instruments I could have played; songs I could have sung; dances I could have danced...if I hadn't always been so concerned about people actually SEEING me in a less-than-perfect moment.
I make it through 17 years of school with straight As and only ever score less than a mid-B on one single test. I have an emotional/mental crisis when deciding to *not do* the Honors program at Baylor because I feel like doing anything less than my "full potential" is succumbing to failure and "FAILURE IS NOT WHO I AM," my brain screams to my already overloaded schedule When I go back to Baylor for my "fun" semester and wind up with 19 hours on my overloaded schedule, I call FOUR DIFFERENT ADULTS in wracking sobs because I am desperate for someone to tell me it is okay FOR ONCE IN MY LIFE to actually UNDER-ACHIEVE. I spend three hours composing emails to the professors of two of those classes, explaining my justification for wanting to take a normal (13-hour) credit load instead of overloading my schedule. Deep inside, I feel the need to explain myself. You know what one of them replies?
"Wait a minute." I think to myself. "So, he...thinks I'm making a *wise* decision in DROPPING CLASSES? What I thought was a failure is actually...maybe...a success?" Funny, how an entire paradigm can be flipped on its head in the span of a couple sentences.
It was always a running joke that my "first B" would cause some sort of catastrophic seismic shift, and I'm here to tell you that my first B happened in my first semester of nursing school you guys...AND I DIDN'T EVEN SHED A SINGLE TEAR.
Maybe, I'm learning.
I'm learning that resumes don't actually have to run the world. And that, in a lot of ways, they ruin souls. I'm learning that many factors go into the making of a GPA and A SIGNIFICANT PERCENT OF THEM are 100% out of my (our) control. I'm learning that maybe, instead of trying to Always Do My Best (i.e. "Be Perfect.") maybe it's okay to most of the time just be Good Enough.
I used to be the girl making color coded outlines for every textbook and every exam in every class. I remember one Baylor semester, during a U.S. History final, I walked in to see *my outline* sitting on almost every single desk in the room. "Thank God for you--you saved my grade," some said. My anatomy outlines have been handed down for two years now, and recently Dr. Taylor decided to make them public and accessible to all future classes. Perfect outlines were my jam, and sending them out so others could benefit from them was a great thrill and made my heart full.
But this semester has been different. We're nearing finals, and I've only made one single outline from scratch. Mostly, I head over to my class's facebook page and download one someone else has already made and graciously posted for all of us to use. I use to be too prideful for that. "Psh--only lazy people use other people's study guides," I'd think. "I'm going to make my own, and make it better, and see who gets the better grade NOW. SURELY the Bible somewhere says that she who makes her *own* study guides instead of being helped by others is the one who succeeds." But this semester, I've been tired. Worn out. Unable to summon the strength and motivation and wit to make my own stuff.
And you know what? The ones other people make are perfectly beautiful. In fact, I've decided, why reinvent the wheel? And while we're at it, who really cares if I make an 86 or a 92? Did I learn the material? Was I kind to people? Did I fulfill my other life responsibilities that (shockingly) exist outside of school? Could it be that maybe all those things matter more than the six extra points?
So this morning I stood in the mirror at 5am and contemplated whether to unbraid my hair or leave it until after the exam. I had only just started studying last night and so was feeling quite underprepared and overwrought. "Just do your best." I told myself. And then I made a correction: "No, Jordan. Just do Good Enough." Sometimes, GOOD ENOUGH IS GOOD ENOUGH and I cannot possibly Always Do My Best every single moment of every single day. That is exhausting. And a breeding ground for Failure. But I can usually do Good Enough.
After the exam, a sweet friend came over to give me a hug. "I'm just really not doing well in school this semester," she said. I almost asked her what her grades are. Because, of course, there's still a huge part of me that says Grades Are The End-All. Instead, I said, "G, are you passing?" "Yes," she said. "Well then, that's Good Enough. It's been a hard semester, my friend. And it's really hot outside. Can we just commit to passing?"
"But then I won't be able to do Honors," she said.
The Right-By-Academia answer would have been: "well then, you need to work harder to make A's."
Instead, I asked her a simple question. "Friend. Do you really WANT to do Honors?"
"Well, it looks good on a resume," she admitted. "I really want to have the Best Shot at getting into the programs I want to get into. And if a bunch of people have Honors Society on their resumes and I don't...well, then..."
What if resumes aren't Real Life? What if we are actually better, more successful, kinder, friendlier people when we are DOING WHAT WE LOVE DOING instead of DOING WHAT WE'RE TOLD WE'RE SUPPOSED TO BE DOING? I mean, is it possible that the world telling us How To Get Somewhere In Life is...wrong?
I'm thinking that maybe LIFE is what happens while we're busy building resumes. Is it possible that there are Good Enough opportunities right in front of our faces-- right here in our ordinary everyday lives? That the things we dream of doing, like to do, *already do* every day are sufficient? Maybe we don't have to go out SEEKING All The Things that Look Good on paper. Maybe the things we like to do will be Good Enough, unintentionally.
I want to let you in on a little secret that you know: there is no one exactly like *you*. You have passions-- things that excite you--that fuel your little engine. DO THOSE THINGS. Do them really, really well. Because each of those Things You Like Doing is a thread, and all those threads weave into a tapestry that is important--and that tapestry is YOU. Frederick Buchner says it's "where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet." That is the place you are called to Be, Do, Pour Into. And you know what? You'll get so wrapped up in doing the things you actually like doing that you'll forget resumes are even a Thing. Then, one day, you'll find yourself having to write one. For your first job interview, or something. And here's the biggest secret no one bothers to tell us: if you've spent your years doing the Things You Love you are 100% guaranteed to have Things to Put On Your Resume.
Friends. We've got to stop this madness.
We must quit SEEKING the Resume Things and instead do the Life Things AS ENDS IN THEMSELVES. I think what we'll find is that our resumes will *build themselves.* Because when we spend our time doing the things we really like doing, the resumes just happen...and we don't even have to MAKE THEM. It's a genius paradigm shift, really.
Fred Storgenbough said "you only go 'round once." I think we need to make our Go Rounding count for more than type-set bullet points on a form&fitted word document.
Because, as Ann says, "at the end of the day, even if you win the rat race, you're still a rat."
So maybe...maybe we don't really want to be in the race at all? Let the Rats do the racing. Let the Perfectionists do the downright bone-picking. They can have their glossy resumes. But us who are the Recovering Ones--recovering from all this Always Do Your Best madness--let's choose to do the Real Living.
Because in the end, the Perfectionism destroys us. At the end of the day, I don't want to say: I did my best and got an A (while in my head believing that getting a B would mean I hadn't done my best). Or I did my best and checked another Volunteer Opportunity off the list.
I want to say:
I am lit by a Flame whose love is eternal. And because I'm lit by Him, I don't have to be a part of the Rat Race Rendezvous. Instead, I am free to do the things that I am Made to Do.
And that? That's Good Enough for me.
As a quick aside:
I just got off the phone with Jared, and he asked me how my exam this morning went. I said, "I got a B, buddy. But it's okay. I'm used to getting B's now. I get a lot of B's in nursing school. So basically, I've decided life isn't worth living." I added that last sentence in an attempt to be humorous, and IT FAILED MISERABLY. Jared FLIPPED and gasped and was like "Jordan, NO! It's okay! It's really okay!" I burst out laughing. Then I told the truth. I said: "Jared. I've decided that Life isn't all about straight A's these days."
The little smart-aleck replied: "well, what took YOU 22 years to figure out has only taken me 15. Go me!"
Then I clarified: "No, Jared. See, here's the thing. There is a Time for Everything. If i had *not* gotten straight A's in high school, I wouldn't BE HERE at nursing school because my entire academic trajectory happened the way it did ON THE BASIS OF my high school transcript. Back then, the grades *really were* important. I knew God had called me to be a nurse, and the road to get to nursing school necessitated that I worked really really hard and made the grades I needed to make. But, you see, now is a *very different time.* I'm not trying to GET ANYWHERE, anymore. This is the End of the Line. What I need to do is learn a ton, pass my classes, and then start working. The important part is Recognizing the Timing. You must be able to recognize when it's time to really buckle down and Do The Hard Thing You Don't Want to Do OR Like To Do and when it's time to STOP doing those things and be content. If you fail to be able to Recognize the Timing you will either:
1) never get to doing the Thing You Were Made to Do because you didn't do the hard things to get there or
2) never get to doing the Thing You Were Made to Do because you never stopped racing the other rats.
Both options are equally disastrous."
And that, friends, is my spiel. There was a time when I needed to take calculus. And there was a time when I needed to drop 6 credit hours and buy a harness and shoes and spend every afternoon in the rock gym.
Recognize the Timing.
You, and the World, will be forever grateful you can.
P.P.S. my darling friend, Jessie, has some good words to say on all this too. Read here.
hey, i'm jordan.
wife to one, mama to four, bible-believing christian.