As long as I can remember, I have been prone to struggle with the idea of “getting it right.” One night as far back as 3rd or 4th grade, I stayed up late at the kitchen table, after the rest of my family was asleep, writing a paper (I believe the subject was Scotland). I recall feeling like I needed to keep working at it at all costs, not because I really wanted to, and not because I was inspired, but because by then I was indoctrinated in the idea that I “had to be perfect” OR ELSE!
My academic perfectionism was full-blown even then. Over the next 12+ years, this kind of attitude would typify my work life: whenever I got an assignment, especially a paper, I would obsess over it, putting long hours into it. Sure, I wanted to do a good job, but my commitment was laced with fear: fear of getting it wrong, fear of getting a bad grade, fear of failure. Fear, fear, fear.
This trend reached unhealthy levels my junior year of high school, when I studied so hard for my AP US History Class that I gave myself walking pneumonia. On the positive side, I did excel at this class, and just about every class I did all the way through high school. I was an academic overachiever, and I got the grades to prove it: I was valedictorian of my class and won a Harvard Book Award.
But it came at a cost. I was always at the mercy of the assignments I was given. My school year was controlled by a need to get perfect grades. By the time I got to college, I was already showing signs of burnout. Despite the most herculean efforts, I never “cracked the code”: the process never got easier, and I never hit my stride and developed confidence in my own writing abilities. All the way through the end of college, I played the game of perfectionism, and I always felt like a powerless slave to it.
Somehow, miraculously, after a rough college experience where I dropped out of one school, took a year off, and transferred to another, I still graduated with honors. Thus was my determination that despite much emotional and mental distress, I excelled.
In his book Awaken the Giant Within, Tony Robbins talks about being away-from and towards motivated. When you are away-from motivated, as I was in school, you are trying to avoid something. I was trying to avoid failure, criticism, and bad grades. While this worked for awhile, ultimately it was exhausting and unsatisfying. On the other hand, being towards motivated means you are motivated positively to acquire something, attain something, or experience something. .
One reason this blog is significant to me is that now I truly allow myself not to worry about “getting it right.” Instead of the away-from motivation of fear, I am motivated by curiosity. I aim to come up with topics that interest me and that I think others find interesting. I have an easy going attitude about these posts, and it’s okay with me if sometimes I only take 20 minutes to write it (and thus risk choosing topics or writing prose that may not be perfect). This attitude is essential if I am going to complete a post each day.
Let me add that, all throughout my childhood I believe I actually was towards motivated when it came to learning. I really did want to do a good job, I really did want to be excellent, and I really did want to learn. However, these purer motives were constantly tainted by my unexamined perfectionism, which made for a wildly bumpy ride.
This is a big reason that once I graduated from college I never looked back. The joys of living in the real world quickly became much more satisfying than the constant stress of trying to measure up in the Ivory Tower. Since college, I have completely changed my attitude from trying to “get it right.” Now I focus on experimenting, trial error, and learning from failure and disappointment. It’s not always easy, because the dreaded “Get It Right” machine is a formidable opponent.
Yet here I am at Day 28, and I am still enjoying writing these posts. Maybe I’m getting something right.