I've written here quite a bit about my perfectionism. I think putting myself in a graduate program, especially one that isn't an obvious choice based on my bachelor's degree, and also waiting 15 years to do it, is going to challenge my perfectionism in a way I hadn't quite predicted. It seems so obvious to me now, especially as I experienced a shame spiral this morning getting my first professor feedback on a paper. I've been writing publicly for a long time now, but not for a grade. Ironically, the feedback I've gotten from this blog has been mostly personal and so in some ways, much more difficult to process than something academic. And yet, having a professional who is insanely more educated than you are tell you all the things you missed in your assessment kinda hurts the pride a bit. The nature of this course I'm taking (Jesus in the Life of the Church) is tricky because the professor wants us to avoid doing any research when writing our papers. This is about building up what is already inside of us in order to be able to relate to Scripture as literature. It's really, really cool. But my confidence is a little shaken, especially because there are many people in the course who have an entire degree in this stuff. So even without research, their built in abilities are going to be way more honed than mine because of their education thus far. I know I bring life experience not just in my age but in my personal process of theology. I haven't dwelled in Scripture for many years (yelp!) but I have dwelled in the human desire to know God, walked the path of deconstruction and come out the other side of trauma healthier, more honest and less prideful. In a program like this, that matters and it's part of why I chose it.
My perfectionism wants to shame me because I didn't get an A on my first paper. My perfectionism starts talking in "shoulds". I should have known that I was making mistakes in my assessments. I should have understood that because the passage I've chosen in very short, it was going to make it that much more difficult to write 5 separate papers on it (it's only 7 verses!) I should have managed my time better so I could have had days in between writing it and turning it in so I could evaluate it in more than one head space. And on and on and on.
Here's the thing: I'm not taking this course to get a good grade. My ass kissing days are way behind me. I'm doing this to LEARN. Really learn. My world-weary self knows that this is part of learning. Taking the risk of writing to a PhD about topics that are brand fucking new to me and receiving feedback on it is pretty damn brave, in all honesty. And that risk I'm taking to do something new, something I love and being willing to be shaped by others in it is a risk well worth taking, now more than ever. Because now I know myself well enough to be able to have boundaries in the classroom (my perfectionism must be notified of this point). I don't have to internalize every opinion of every professor without my filters. I don't have to figure out his preferences in order to cater to his expectations. Of course, I need to take his feedback, consider it and do better next time. And I respect him immensely. His feedback was legitimate and helpful and will equip me to write the subsequent 4 papers (which will later turn into one monster paper by the end of the course). He was very kind and generous towards me. The grade was fair (and it wasn't bad - I got a B. So funny how that's TERRIBLE to a perfectionist!) The point is, my days of seeing a grade or an expert opinion and internalizing it to mean something about my personhood or value are done. I'm putting my stake in the sand and prioritizing process over perfection. I'm learning things that matter to me and I'm doing it on my terms. And I know I'm going to grow. Why? Because I am taking risks and I am learning from my mistakes. I can't do that if I plug my ears. And I can't do that if I just try to please my teachers. Learning for yourself is a whole new ball game. And finding the balance between ignoring feedback and internalizing it is a huge part of my personal growth.
Here's to my first steps!
BTW: the above pics are from my littles starting their first and last years of elementary. Might have something to do with my vulnerability to a shame spiral this week!!!