I am a perfectionist. I am a control freak. My biggest fear is failure. And that failure can come in all different shapes and sizes. Not being accepted into the NCSSM in high school. Not scoring a 5 on my Advanced Placement tests. Not playing a perfect solo during the halftime show at a football game. Locking my keys in the car…while it was still running. The premature dissolution of my marriage. Sending my child to school in shorts on a day where the high is 60 degrees at 7am and she’ll be coming home to 40 degrees and rain. Forgetting to put the leftovers in the fridge after dinner…and only realizing that oops the next morning. Yelling at my child. Not being prepared for a meeting or presentation at work. Sending an email without the referenced attachment. Not finishing my degree.
I know most people would read that list and immediately think, “she’s not a failure.” But, I am much harder on myself than any one person should be. I know this. I’m programmed that way. I always have been for as long as I can remember. I’m a people pleaser too, so anytime I haven’t pleased the person I’m trying to please, the voice in my head whisper yells, “failure.” (Note, if you aren’t sure what a whisper yell is, think of a small child yelling in a whisper tone in church…during the quietest part of the service and everyone in the entire church can hear.)
I’ve been working for nearly 18 years now to finish my undergraduate studies, off and on (more off than on to be honest). Shortly after giving birth to Katie, I decided I needed to go back to school and finish what I had started so many years before. With the support of my family and friends, I took that huge leap and started down a very long road filled with successes and failures. I’m now nearing the end of that very long road. And, barring a complete miracle (that is not an exaggeration), I will end this semester just a single class shy of graduating.
I have experienced monumental anxiety leading up to this final class…a third semester of Spanish. Monumental is putting it mildly. The first day of the 5 week semester when I had assignments to submit, I found out the proctor my professor had tentatively approved for me via email had been denied. That was less than 48 hours from the first exam. I scrambled to find a proctor in the area that wouldn’t charge me an arm and a leg to proctor 5 one-hour exams and a three-hour final. That same evening, as I sat down to submit my numerous homework assignments, my anxiety soared to new heights and I had to literally work at the computer and from my book with my right eye closed (thank you migraine).
The only thing that kept me even close to sane was my sweet husband reminding me that I can’t let this class define me as a person. He told me to look around. We aren’t in a townhouse in Raleigh in a neighborhood with sketchy neighbors and daily police sightings. We are in a safe home in Erie with a huge yard, lots of wildlife and beautiful starry nights. I do not wake up each morning dreading going into work and I do not stare at the clock throughout the day wishing the hours to pass by even faster. I look forward to each day at my office. I enjoy the work I’m doing and I hope that I’m making a difference in someone’s life each and every day. My daughter is no longer “just a number” in one of the largest school systems in the nation. Instead, she’s a real person and someone that her teachers have taken time to get to know on a personal level. Mike has reminded me that I cannot allow other people to define who I am. I must do that for myself. I am a wife, a mother, a daughter, a friend, a mentor, a pet lover, a perfectionist, a helper, a servant, impatient, loyal, kind, caring, loving, compassionate, intelligent, faithful…and most importantly, I am a child of God, created in His image and created just as He wanted me (degree or not).
The following day, I totally bombed the first exam. Now, nearly every time I attempt to complete even the simplest task associated with the class, my anxiety kicks into high gear once again…which brings along its nasty little friend – depression. On the bright side, I scored better on the second exam than I did on the first. #winning
At Mike’s urging, I finally reached out for help from my department head and others at the university. My admitting failure to the people that are essentially judging me as I near the end of my program was actually very freeing. And being told that I shouldn’t have been forced to deal with a situation like that in the first place made me feel a lot better. Now, as I prepare for my third exam, I’ve come to the realization that this struggle may be God’s way of teaching me that I really am too hard on myself and I need to lighten up. I’ve often said that I need a two-by-four upside the head so I know when God is trying to telling me something or guide me in a particular direction. I guess sometimes that isn’t even enough.
For now, I’ll finish studying tonight for my third exam while indulging in some ice cream…because a spoon (or bowl) full of sugar has a slight numbing effect.