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Anecdote: A Failure to Face Failure

In high school, and maybe even before that, I developed a bad habit of turning in assignments only if they were 100 percent complete. If I didn’t understand a concept, the corresponding assignment was not likely to make it to the teacher. Intellectually, I knew that homework was more about putting in effort than showing mastery over some subject or concept. But I just couldn’t bring myself to turn in something incomplete, or something I knew contained more wrong than right. Needless to say, this habit didn’t do any favors to my GPA.

However, I’m not a perfectionist by nature. Far from it. One reason I avoided taking any math in college was that I historically made too many arithmetic mistakes by rushing through tests and failing to double-check my work. Even when doing something as simple as putting together furniture from IKEA, I’m more likely to shrug and move on when a screw’s missing or a chair comes out a bit crooked.

So I think my failure to turn in adequate assignments was a compulsion, not an impulsion. That is, when in high school (and to a certain extent today), I didn’t feel an internal drive toward perfection. Rather, I felt that others expected perfection from me, and if I couldn’t deliver on that perfection, there was no point in even trying.

Ironically, trying to appear perfect by only submitting assignments that I felt were perfect hurt me much more than fessing up to my imperfections and just turning in what I could. More than simply hurting my GPA, my self-imposed perfectionism stunted me. Every assignment I didn’t turn in was an avoidance of rejection. As far as my high-school self was concerned, I could never fail if I didn’t try. And consequently, I never really learned anything that came as a challenge. If I had a knack for something, great. I’d bank on never really failing at it. If I struggled with something, I’d surrender. Ultimately, by trying to appear perfect to those around me, I drifted further and further from personal and intellectual growth.

What I tell myself now is that people don’t scrutinize me as much as I do myself. Everyone is the center of their own universe, so I highly doubt that most people even notice my failures. And anyone who tries to use my failures as a weapon against me is petty and insecure, so who needs ‘em.

Of course, telling myself this is only partially successful. It’s hard to break a well-established habit like avoiding failure; I still struggle to put myself in situations where failure is a strong possibility, or where people might judge me as less than perfect. Writing blogs, for instance, is something I’ve always been loath to attempt largely for those reasons.

But I feel that these struggles with avoiding struggle are worth writing about because many people face them to some degree. Fundamentally, we want to take the path of least resistance, and when there are so many paths open to us, it’s easy to ignore anything that causes challenge or strife.

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