My perfectionism, my problem?

December 12, 2006

Okay, this was meant to be a happy update post on Cape Cod travels and The Emperor’s Children. And I still feel that post is forthcoming. Yesterday, instead, ended up derailing these cheery intentions for reasons that had nothing to do with recovering from travels. Now, how many times have I told myself that grades don’t matter?

How many times have I realized that I am happiest when I look at myself in the mirror and see hey, there’s a human being there, and human beings make mistakes and live through them and are generally no worse for wear? How many times I have tried to tell myself that the worst things that happen to me almost always happen in my imagination? How many times have I tried to get some perspective?

How many times have all of these things not worked at all? I am just like Sundance getting all pouty when he and Butch and Katherine Ross get to Bolivia. One little cloud on my horizon, and I go all to pieces.

Let’s just cut to the chase. The grades in question are not my own, they are D’s. Quite unexpectedly, he’s come up with a couple of C+’s for the semester. One was more or less expected, in the admittedly hardest class in the degree. The other was a complete surprise. In combination, they have left both of us scratching our heads while wailing and gnashing. What did we do wrong? Is it completely unrealistic to carry a full time MACC courseload and work full time? Does D need to quit his job and do we need to take out student loans to cover living expenses for the next two years? Is that the only way this can be done? And if so, is it worth doing? Would it have been different if I had spoken up more when whole weekends passed by without a book being cracked? Would I have spoken up more if I didn’t feel so guilty about relying on D to more or less support us while I dally about working part time and taking English classes to my heart’s content? The worst is, I look a the pile of A’s I have now officially received from Large Third Tier State University, and I realize that they are totally pointless compared to his grades. His grades will get him a job that has a decent chance of supporting a family, mine guarantee that my job will always be second place. I am as bad as an Art History major. Who cares about Moby Dick when there’s a mortgage you would genuinely like to be paying? I’m not even planning on teaching.

Of course, a C+ isn’t an outright failure. On the other hand, seeing as he needs a B average in classes in his major to graduate, and both of these classes were classes in his major, it’s a warning sign. My oh so diligent sister has been pumping me full of fear and awe for the world of public accounting recruiters for the past four years, and I know they have a GPA minimum when it comes time to decide who gets and offer. I also know that D might hate public accounting, and that accounting professors safely ensconced in academia routinely pull in six figures. That requires a GPA good enough to get into an accounting PhD program, which isn’t necessarily the plan but one would like the option, right? So if I could really believe that this degree was just a matter of getting the credits, I could shake this off.  What if it’s not? What if a bad semester early on is a hint that more are to come? What’s worse than finishing a MACC? Finishing one that can’t get you a job worth the money it took to get it.
I realize that I’m not making much sense here, and that part of my fear has nothing at all to do with the realities of the job market and everything to do with the fact of the C itself. I am an awful hypocrite. C’s are what I spent my career as an RA making other people  feel okay about, not me and mine. And then there’s the feeling that it implicates me and all of my self-delusions. How many times did I make Daniel cook dinner or make weekend plans b/c I had gotten all of my homework done during the week? I must think I’m God’s gift to have put these silly classes ahead of his, which are the ones that count, the ones that represent a shouldering of the burden of being an adult in precarious economic times. Having just got back from a trip to my Puritan roots, this spiralling course of self-punishment seems right on target. This wouldn’t have happened if I/we had made the right choices. This is a sign of having strayed from God’s grace. (Of course I don’t believe this literally, but I do believe the idea is deeply enough rooted in my American, northern, Protestant upbringing that it plays a part in shaping my emotional reaction to bad grades.)

The question remains: is this something that can be fixed by hard work and more focused effort? Or is this a sign of a drastically wrong course? Where in marriage is the line between support and dependency? What is the best thing I can do for us? Because the worst thing I can imagine right now is to continue being the kind of person who registers grades on a transcript as life-altering, career-defining earthquakes, the kind of person who clutches the memory of disappointment close and refuses to let go and move on. I don’t want my hoarded anger about these grades to come out in the weeks and months to follow, always looming and possibliy coloring D’s opinion of his own abilities. That is the very, very last thing I want to have happen.  Wanting to be perfect is a child’s game, and it no longer affects just me.

Okay, that’s out. Time to move on to cheerier topics. More updates soon.

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