Saturday, April 23, 2011

How doing my best and working for better grades damaged me

At 52 I am rebelling against the need within to finish everything I start. It began to dawn on me some time ago that my sense of self-worth is tied to successfully completing anything I choose or am required to do. I think this began in school: my teachers were happy with my results and attitude to work but always put ‘Beverley could do better’ or ‘isn’t applying herself to the best of her ability’, especially if my report card showed more Bs than As. As a result I grew up thinking anything less than 100% wasn’t good enough and that to be completely successful one has to do the very best that one can do in each and every moment, striving for the perfect 100% all of the time. 
Sounds like a recipe for failure doesn’t it? It’s not surprising that every day as I reflect on my achievements I feel like and see myself as a failure. Or that, no matter how hard I try, I can’t reach that 100% goal - I’m always a few percentage points short! Most people think I’m crazy and that I’m an over-achiever and that I should be happy with 95%. But on the report card in my mind at the end of each day it says, ‘could do better’. That translates into ‘not good enough’: I’m not good enough. I’ve personalised those comments from long ago and taken the judgment to heart, made it about myself.
This message was reinforced continuously for twelve years from the age of five and became a conditioned response, a mantra that runs through my head every day. But it’s worse than that. For twelve years how I was judged as a person came down to whether or not I successfully completed discrete tasks called assignments, essays or tests. Finishing was all important. Failing to finish was exactly that – a fail! For the next twenty-five years of my life I was goal-oriented. Success was measured not only in how well I did (anything less than 100% fell short of course), but also occurred only when the task was completely finished. And once it was finished I could begin to enjoy the fruits of my labour.
This resulted in me becoming fixated on getting things done because only then could I fully enjoy life. When I had finished school I could get a job and enjoy being an adult (the whole point of school, right?) When I finished building my house I could relax and enjoy it (no one mentioned maintenance!) Finishing became the goal and the purpose, with the enjoying the end result the motivation.
As a home educating parent I discovered that the process of learning and doing is way more important than the products. It is where most of the enjoyment happens too. Learning and doing is fun. There is intrinsic motivation in both. I knew this as a child but school and grades systematically erased that knowledge and understanding. As a parent I worked hard to de-school my homeschooling practice but de-schooling myself is an ongoing process – it never stops.  

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