How is it possible to feel so many things in a day! Overwhelmed by grace. Joy at rekindling a friendship. Grieved by recent news. Flattened by comments on an assignment. Nagging insecurity. Raging self-doubt. Frustration as J and I got into an argument. Delight in hanging out with a bunch of kids at church.
And in the midst of the peaks and valleys of today, what sticks out to me? The moment of feeling flattened by comments on an assignment. As the recording in my mind replays critique after critique, I’m finding myself near tears.
It’s amazing for me how quickly I can turn criticism into a mirror in which I see myself. Not as a lens of improvement, but as a sort of Dorian Gray portrait in which I see the worst of myself and imagine others to see me in that light. Now I know that this is not a good choice, but as I sit near tears, it makes me doubt future goals. And question the kind of person that I want to become. Do I really want to pursue an academic life with the continuing back and forth of review and critique? If I’m feeling this beaten down by comments on a measly assignment, how do I stand before a dissertation committee? Answer being: I need a thicker skin between now and then.
Partly nothing I do will be perfect, and the overachiever in me has to accept that. And part of me has to give myself grace for struggling with the assignment in the first place. The assignment as it was written seemed self-evident, but the further I got into it – the less sense it made and the less I saw how things were supposed to come together. And I’m a total rule-follower, so I just tried to hack it instead of going my own route. I should have asked for help or flat out gone rogue, but I was sick (literally had pneumonia and didn’t know it until much later) and burnt out and just pulled out a paper. Not my best paper. And no – I didn’t fail it. I just didn’t knock it out of the park like I usually do.
And perhaps I’m bummed because I was writing in part for the wrong reasons. Writing to try and impress someone else rather than to grow myself. That’s always a bad choice for me, and usually leads to crap work. Writing something that was easy and manageable instead of reaching beyond my comfort. And it showed in the writing. Maybe that’s what I’m upset about too, and what makes it harder to release. And I have to let go of it. I failed my standards in the midst of my own life chaos. I juggled too many things, and made a choice to just check something off a to-do list rather than pursue something.
But, maybe, just maybe, I ought to give myself a little grace this time around. So maybe I got a B on an assignment this term instead of my normal overachiever A. But, at the same time, I didn’t tank my life completely this term like I’ve done at previous moments where life went sour. I’m still in seminary – I’m still on track to graduate when I planned. And given all that life has thrown at us in the past 18 months – that’s an achievement. So, crazy-pants brain, let’s stop dwelling in the anxious self-critical place, and start being more balanced. Yes, your professor may not think you wrote the coolest thing ever, but get over it. You survived the semester while wrapping your head around surviving an ectopic pregnancy. In the big scheme of things, one paper is not the biggest deal ever.