The Mutually Exclusive Self

If you haven’t guessed already, I process through the written word. Which is basically the reason for the existence of this blog, and my old one (guys, I’ve been blogging for SIX YEARS. I’m not old enough to have a half-dozen anniversary for my blog!). Anyways, I also process through extended e-mail conversations. It was during one of these electronic epistles that I found myself typing this absurdity:

“If I don’t do something perfectly the first time, I feel like I failed. Even if I go back and make it better, it still doesn’t feel good enough because it wasn’t PERFECT. THE FIRST TIME.”

When I see my words staring back at me, I realize I’m probably certifiable. Because I would also eagerly and honestly tell you that at 22 years of age, I don’t know everything (or much of anything), and I love learning new skills and perfecting old ones, and I want to be a life-long learner. Which is mutually exclusive with viewing imperfection at the first try as failure.

This isn’t a new internal paradox, of course. I was that sickeningly annoying college student that actually wasn’t happy unless I got 100%. It didn’t matter if I got an A, I wasn’t satisfied until I could prove that I had absolutely mastered (or memorized) the material. And once I hit the 100% level–I wanted more. See, this sick cycle NEVER ENDS. If there was extra credit on the table, I’d better get over 100%, otherwise, I was a failure. I’m sharing this in the hopes that there are others suffering from the same incompatible mindsets: trying to learn and grow while accepting nothing short of perfection.

If you’re like me, can we make a pinky promise together? That the next time we aren’t perfect in our first attempts, we’ll stop telling ourselves we’re failures? We are learners. We are brave souls willing to make mistakes to do better next time. Even if better isn’t perfection.

We are our stories.

There are so many stories here.  I noticed this as I walked down the princess staircase this morning.  The stained glass streaming light onto this glamorous staircase was a small action shot of a knight riding his horse into battle.  If that isn’t the epitome of a classic story…..well, no need for cliches.  Any story involving a knight must be a good one.  I’ve been walking down that staircase for a few weeks and never even saw the knight before.  There are so many stories here.

The best ones aren’t even the ones captured in colored glass.  They are the ones in sweatshirts and jeans, hands in their pockets, shuffling past Rockwell. They are the ones that are chatting loudly outside of my window.  They are the ones down the hall, around the corner, and next to you in class.

These are stories that defy our English formula for literature.  They may have a beginning, but there is no end and while there is much rising action, the climax is yet to be written.  No one is really sure who the antagonist is here.  We can’t figure out if this is man vs. nature, or nature vs. nature, or why we have to be versus anything at all.  Sometimes, we don’t even know who the protagonist is but we hope they are a character that someone would like and want to cheer on.

There are so many unknowns and unwrittens to these stories that we tend to hide them.  The most we give out is a 300 word summary or back-of-the-book paragraph that is so vague it could be written about anyone.

College is mostly about learning.  Most of my homework is reading.  I’m reading about creating good ideas, the fall of Rome, how to record an adjusting entry, and the historical background of the book of Judges.  I’ve learned a good deal in the last six weeks and will continue to do so.  Yet I want to read more than textbooks or fiction.  I want to know more than dates or philosophies.  I want to begin with the stories that surround me.  After all, we are our stories.