Rethinking personal standards

By Rick Lowe | 4/2/14 7:04pm

I used to hold myself to some really high standards—almost unrealistic. All throughout middle and high school I was a 4.0 student, and the first time I got less than a B on something, I actually cried about it. I went so long getting 100% on everything, and to suddenly have that glass house shattered was devastating. That’s why I don’t really play racing games anymore; right at the last lap, just around the corner from the finish line, Murphy’s Law would always take effect and I’d have to start the race over again, after being in first place the entire time.

A paradox or logic bomb might go as follows: “A flawed human is a perfect human.” To me, this makes sense of the fact that when we encounter a depiction of humanity that is “too perfect,” we get unnerved and creeped out.

Following this train of thought looks like this: By wanting to be perfect, I am trying to overcome my flaws, which is impossible because I am flawed, which makes me perfect… this is too confusing. How about a story? Once there was a guy who realized that he was so busy focused on doing well in school that he was socially inept from lack of practice, girlfriend-less from lack of effort, and fat and out-of-shape. He was unhappy because of these things and decided to stop worrying about getting As and be satisfied with Bs and Cs.

Ok, I still draw the line at D work. A “D” is a failure to me. That’s a long way from my original viewpoint, where an A- was considered “poor performance” and anything less was an outright failure.

But you know, are these grades going to matter? That quiz I failed in 7th grade, my first “F” ever? Nobody cares. I don’t even care anymore. During my senior year of high school, I was in the running for valedictorian, and I imagine if I had done some more extracurriculars and tried as hard as I used to try, I could have gotten it. The actual valedictorian was much more “involved” as far as the school community went, and she kept her 4.0 throughout the year—I was pleased with my 3.7. So I got salutatorian and it was great because I didn’t have to give a big serious speech, I got to give a short, sweet and funny one.

In the end, I’ve become more laid back. I still have high standards for class work, and I still try to get the As, and I still get angry with myself for failures… the difference is, I move on quicker. I don’t dwell on it and beat myself up anymore. A group project during my first semester here received a C and I was miffed about it because I had originally wanted to do more work on the project and try to streamline it, tidy it up a bit more… but I shrugged and said “well alright.”

This attitude was cemented during the times I worked retail jobs, where I learned that the idea was to do exactly what was asked of you, nothing more and nothing less. I actually got in trouble once for cleaning the bathrooms ahead of schedule, because the manager had said that she had a specific time she wanted them cleaned. Go figure, right? Try to impress people and end up disappointing them. An unfortunate side effect of the “nothing more, nothing less” attitude is that I tend to take directions a bit too literally. A coworker once said, teasingly I believe, that I was the store’s “Amelia Bedelia.” I said I was not, because for that to be true I would have to be female and dressed in a maid’s outfit.

Rethinking personal standards

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