What I Learned at College This Fall: Imperfection is Not a Flaw

Despite knowing that math is not my strong suit, I hoped I could put forth enough effort to score an A and hold on to my perfect 4.0 grade point average.  Those hopes were unceremoniously dashed when I saw my final grade:  86.49, a high B.  Good enough to pass, for which I was relieved since it meant I would never again have to take another math class.  But it was also the death knell for my perfect GPA.  It was gone, forever.

No matter how hard I work from this point forward, no matter how many As I receive in my future classes, I will never again have a 4.0.  The most I can hope for is a 3.99.  Someone told me “Losing a 4.0 GPA is like losing your virginity:  once it’s gone, there’s no getting it back.”  A cute analogy I suppose, but with one big difference:  I wanted to lose my virginity!  My perfect GPA was a great source of pride for me, and losing it was a massive blow to my ego.  I sat and quietly brooded over this loss for several hours, trying to hide my disappointment — no, not disappointment; grief.  I mourned the loss of that GPA the way some people would mourn over a break-up.  I received consolations from friends and family who pointed out that a 4.0 GPA at the college level is a nearly unattainable goal; few manage to achieve it.  One could easily graduate Summa cum Laude with a 3.95.  I thanked them for their effort to soothe me but in my mind I was still saying, “Yes, but it’s not a 4.0.  It’s not perfect.”

Then I began to think about the message I was sending to myself.  I have always tended toward perfectionism.  I push myself for good grades — not just good but perfect.  I take every opportunity to earn extra credit points, whether or not I need them.  The fixation spills over into my personal life as well.  Doing laundry is infinitely frustrating.  My determination to fold everything perfectly straight borders on obsession.  I monitor everything I eat and spend hours at the gym trying to attain the perfect body that has always eluded me.  I apply my high-end makeup with a skilled hand learned from hours pouring over tips from top makeup artists, trying to cover the freckles and spots and lines that mar my complexion.  Chipped nail polish will irritate me like a pebble in my shoe until I can repair it.  I fret for days over a broken nail.  I pluck out the ever-increasing silver in my hair that pops up like dandelions.

[dropcap letter=”P”]erfect

I finished my fall term at college just days ago, and have been waiting patiently (well, perhaps not that patiently) for the posting of my final grades.  What has had me the most on edge is my pending grade in Pre-algebra.  I am not a math person and never have been. Numbers just never managed to blaze a trail through the vast cornfield maze that is my brain.  No matter how many times I go over the formulas I always seem to hit dead ends.

[blockquote class=”kp-blockquote”]My goal is always obscured by stalks too high to see over, no matter how high I jump.[/blockquote]

And then I began to think about my father.  He was a deeply dissatisfied man throughout his life, which could be summed up in one trite phrase:  “The grass is always greener.”  He spent his life moving from one place to another, rarely staying put for more than a few years, constantly chasing the chance for a more fulfilling existence.  But as with all mirages, once he reached them they disappeared, only to reappear somewhere else farther down the road.  He was a voracious reader, in part because it allowed him, however briefly, to live vicariously the kinds of lives he wished he could have had.  I realize I am more my father’s daughter than I care to admit.  My focus is always on the person I wish I were and not the person I am.  I always see what is lacking in myself, never the things that make me a strong and unique woman.  I realize that my preoccupation with perfection is only serving to make me a less fulfilled person, just like my father.

The desire for perfection is like that elusive 4.0 — it’s an unattainable goal.  Being perfect does not equal fulfillment.  High honor can be achieved just as easily with a 3.95.  I must learn to find the high honor in my flaws and find my peace in the means, not just the end.

I’m beginning to feel better about that 3.893 GPA I now find myself with . . . a bit better.  After all, old habits die hard.

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