I quit something!
Normally I’m not the type of person who shouts this from the rooftops, or even whispers it across a table in a noisy coffee shop. But in this case, having gotten overwhelmed and exhausted and emotional and angry and just generally drained on the second day of school, not to mention having three separate friends ask if there was any way I could cut back on my activities – well, something had to go. I didn’t have many options; most of my time is taken up by classes, which qualify me as a full-time student, and work, which brings me a little money and which I also happen to love. One of my internships is technically being taken for credit, and I only need 5 more hours to earn it. So that left the newest internship, the one only a few days old.
I felt like a traitor, because I had pursued this opportunity myself. I felt like a slacker because I had only completed one task (she had only given me one task, but that didn’t make me feel any better). I felt like I always do when I have to make a perfectly legitimate excuse for bowing out of something, which is to say that I was certain my professor would think I was flaky, irresponsible, and ungrateful. It took me a full five minutes of staring at the email I’d written her, analyzing its professionalism, to work up the guts to hit send.
And you know what I felt?
This internship thingy had to do with organizing writers’ visits to my university campus throughout the year. Now I didn’t have to worry about sporadic weeks of hectic stress cutting into my already packed routine, nor did I have to shove aside activities to make room for writers who may or may not have even worked in my preferred genres.
But even though I knew it was the smartest decision for me and my mental health, I still found myself justifying to all my friends who asked about it. “Oh, yeah, I just didn’t have room for it in my schedule,” I would say, hastening to add that I was still very busy, not slacking off, not flaking out on all my other obligations.
My friend wrote a wonderful column in our university newspaper today about the problem with perfectionism, particularly in college students. She points out that many of us strive for perfection in order to avoid shame; if we’re perfect, no one will chastise us. The size of the failure doesn’t matter because the shame is always looming, gargantuan, disproportionate to most of the ways we fear “failing.” I thought pulling out of the internship would undo all the good work I had done in that prof’s class last semester. Even as I happily marked down the hours I could now spend relaxing or doing, I don’t know, the homework I hadn’t had time to do, doubt poked at the back of my mind. What if she got mad? What if my thesis advisor thought I’d flake out on him too? What if this was the beginning of my new slacker lifestyle?
I realize this is illogical. The thing is, when it comes to shame and perfectionism, logic has very little to do with it. Hermione took All The Magic Classes Ever in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, I tell myself.
Yes, the more reasonable part of my brain answers, but she needed a magical Time Turner to do it.
As it happens, I got an email from my professor a few days ago. She said that my schedule did look demanding, and she hoped that I could join the group for dinner with one of the writers anyway as a thank-you for the work I had already done.
I think I can pencil that in. But if I can’t… it’s no big deal.