Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Words to Live By

Yeah, we all have them. You know, words that are so deeply embedded into our being that we don't always know where they came from, but still manage to affect much of what we do...or don't do.

I've been thinking about this for a couple of weeks, ever since I got my first B+ in grad school...and only the second in this round of college. At first I was ticked because I (thought) that I'd done a good job participating and designing my final project. Then, I was really ticked when I figured out my total points and realized that I'd missed an A- by 1 point. One. Freaking. Point.

Then my friend, Chris, who seems to be my Jiminy Cricket sometimes, reminded me that 1) I was now done with the class, 2) I'd passed, and 3) I really wasn't on board with the "B and done" philosophy that I claimed to espouse.

And you know, once again, he's right.

Why can't I just be happy with the whole "B and done" mentality? It'd make my life (and those suffering through grad school with me) sooooo much easier. I wouldn't have to live life fueled by long nights and lots of Diet Coke. I might even be able to stop taking Prilosec a month at a time. I might even be able to live a semi-normal life. Such a concept...

Well, as I've been thinking about it, I finally figured out some of why I can't just let it go. Why that intensity seems almost hard-wired into my very essence sometimes. Why it's so damn hard to let go of the almost crippling perfectionism. It all comes down to words spoken so often to me as I was growing up.

Most people know that I was (am) an only child. (It was by choice that my parents only had one.) There were plenty of times that I wished they'd reconsidered and had more, especially when I got into trouble (frequently) and not ever being able to say, "It wasn't me! I didn't do it. It was _______", 'cause, yeah...that didn't fly. I know how many people think, "Yeah, whatever. Quit your whining, because you probably got everything you asked for." Mmmmm, I'd like to go on record as saying, "I wish." What they don't think about is that by being an only child, there wasn't anyone else to deflect the parental focus, and nowhere to hide. It wasn't so much that Mom & Dad expected perfection, because I don't think they did (which is good, because they sure didn't get it), rather they expected excellence. All the time.

I still remember when my Dad read the book In Search of Excellence. His favorite quote became, "If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?" And, yes, if I didn't do it right, I did it over. Which sucked. I'm pretty quick on the uptake, so I learned to do things right the first time, because I damn sure didn't want to do them over. And over. And over.

My Mom's favorite quote, on the other hand, was "Argue for your limitations, and sure enough they're yours." Anytime I'd say, "I can't" I'd hear it. Anytime I'd say something like, "I'm too dumb" or "I'll never understand this" or whatever, I'd hear it. Now, this could be a good thing, sure. But it didn't leave a whole lot of room for failure.

Other things I heard: Stay focused. Work hard. Never give up. You can cry and carry on later, but for now, you just gotta put your head down and get the job done. You give it your best, and then a little more. If you don't like how something is, change it--don't just stand there and bitch about it. Don't do things half-assed; either do them right or don't do them at all.

They all come down to one thing: Failure is not an option.

I think a person's favorite quotes speaks volumes about their core personality. Sometimes, the quotes mirror the inner, often unspoken dialogue s/he has internalized. They also illuminate not only what the person strives for, but also the instances in which they fall short.

For instance, some of mine are:

"Holiness is in right action, and courage on behalf of those who cannot defend themselves" -Hospitaler, 1185 AD

“When you’ve faced that moment and given everything you have, you let yourself realize that . . . your success or failure is not ultimately based on whether you triumphed, but in how you faced up to the challenge.”—Rich Wallace

It is not upon thee to finish the work; Neither art thou free to abstain from it.

"The question isn’t who is going to let me; It’s who is going to stop me." -Ayn Rand

"I'm not interested in preserving the status quo; I want to overthrow it."
-Niccolo Machiavelli

But I'm also trying to incorporate "Progress, not perfection"; "B and Done"; and the whole idea of The Cult of Done. I keep tripping up on my own perfectionism, but I'll keep at it. 'Cause I damn sure don't want to do it over.

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