Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Perfectionism - the Silent Killer

Mrs. S., do you have a moment…? I need to speak to you about your child…

I learned that approximately nine out of ten times, when those words come from the mouth of your child’s teacher, you’d better have a moment or two, or you’ll just need to rebook that flight to Cayman Islands. I also learned that nine and a half out of ten times, it spells trouble. The teacher has repeatedly encountered a problem big enough to request parent’s support and assistance.

All our previous do-you-have-a-moment conversations with our children’s teachers proved to be invaluable as their loving feedback has always sought nothing but the best for our family. They have also been extremely insightful, shedding light onto some major blind spots in our family dynamics, usually having me at the root of the dysfunction. I braced myself for the impact, knowing after I survive this, it’s only going to get better.

I am all yours and all ears for as long as you need…

She offered me a chair as she sat down.

I am very concerned about T…
she said. I sat down dumbfounded.

Concerned?!!! What could she possibly be concerned about with T?!!!?? My to-a-fault responsible, hard-working, straight As brainiac is a model student. Her handwriting is impeccable, her homework imaginative, her math assignments immaculate. Sometimes I wish some of that had rubbed off on her brother, but parents should never compare children, especially not in order to make their job easier.


I don’t know how to put this…
the teacher continued. T is amazing. I love getting her work, I love the way she thinks, I love the way she expresses herself… but she … she just tries too hard… Her work is always perfect… However, she takes awful lot of time on making sure that everything is just so, that I am afraid she may fail the FCAT even though I know she knows all the content. The test is timed and they make provision of extra time for some students. But she doesn’t qualify for those provisions.

‘Tries too hard’… ‘always perfect’ ...
Resonate in my mind as I wait for the teacher to continue. She adds no further comments, leaving the giant ball in my court.

I stare at the ample evidence confirming my suspicion that the gene of perfectionism indeed has been passed down to the next generation. The funny thing is that we thought it was a good thing. We even cheered and encouraged its development. We may never admit it openly, but we saw it as an asset, not a liability! In the highly competitive world we live in, in order to be successful, one seems to always need to push harder, give more of oneself, beat the latest record… For some of us, the internal pressure is compounded with the external demands (self-imposed as they may be) of the environment and culture that feeds the psychosis. Going against this culture appears like sabotaging your own or your child’s chance of success.

And yet, the gentle words of the caring teacher point to a different reality – a place of discernment where one knows when to keep going and when to stop; when to push and when to let go. A place where wisdom is found in choosing to fail well, where distinguishing the precious from the worthless is more valuable than acquiring a PhD in Trivialities; where great understanding is reserved for all those who learn to recognize when good is good enough indeed.

It is vain for you to rise up early,
To stay up late,
To wear yourself out chasing illusions;
For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.

Psalm 127:2