By Jerusha Gray
Today was the Monday-est of Mondays.
My boss was out of town, my two-year-old had a cold, and my eight-year-old could not, for the life of him, find his binder. “But Mom! Without my binder, my day will be over forever!”
I tried to catch the words of my foster mom before they tumbled over my lips but they slip by anyway. “If it was truly important to you, you would have left it where you could find it easily. Why didn’t you put it with your clothes when I asked you to get them ready last night?”
He made a guttural noise in the back of his throat. I hate that noise. It is the audible counterpoint to the adolescent eye roll. I thought I had a few more years before all of that teenager drama. Apparently my child is an overachiever.
We made it to school five minutes late. I also hate that. I reminded myself that he was dressed, fed, not bleeding, and running his away across the playground towards class and not still in bed asleep. He made it—albeit late. It wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough.
Stacks of documents on my desk greeted me in the office. The day was the typical, organized chaos. I bounced between walk-ins, billing questions, and dug away at the pile of to-dos. I wolfed down a sandwich from the shop next door while perusing the review questions for my finance test. Normally my study practices are majestic. If I could make sweet, sweet love to color-coded, annotated, alphabetized note cards, I would. The process of crafting those tools gives me the confidence I need when facing an exam.
Was I prepared? Hell, no. I had studied faithfully through the course. I reviewed for several hours the previous weekend, and was eating and reading on my lunch break. That being said, I wasn’t able to commit to the orgy of preparation that keeps my anxiety quiet.
There was no meditation beforehand. I didn’t have beautifully crafted notes. I had a sandwich in one hand, highlighter in the other, and a ringing cell phone in my pocket. All of this at my desk accented by the door chime as clients flowed in and out.
Work wrapped up at six o’clock. I hopped in my car and made my way through traffic towards the exam site. I was not ready. If I don’t pass this test, my boss will have to pay for me to take it again. I was already on thin ice for changing my work schedule to accommodate the toddler human’s preschool schedule. I was fairly certain that failing this test would make my friends hate me, cause all the food in my fridge to instantly go bad, give me acne, make me gain ten pounds, and force me to vote Republican.
My anxiety started to whisper, “Why do you even try? This is crazy. You aren’t ready. You didn’t prepare enough. You’re not going to get a good grade—if you even pass at all.” In short, my anxiety is an asshole.
I got to the site with a few minutes to spare (insert self-high-five) and checked in.
The test started out easily enough. Around question five, in came the dreaded questions about variable annuities and the ramifications of tax-free status for conversions. Seriously, f— my life. I remembered annuities from my insurance license exam, but the tax law knowledge in my brain has officially left the building.
My heart beat raced. My palms grew damp. I got the chills, and the room began to blur. My anxiety was doing the hula between my ears.
Since I was little, I have equated perfection with my self-worth. If the task, idea, product wasn’t perfect, then it wasn’t worth doing. Initially there were benefits coupled with this line of thinking. I was continuously pushing towards completing with the utmost quality. I wanted my work to be the gold standard. This worked for a while.
Midway through my twenties my anxiety developed into a full-blown disorder. It had an opinion on every aspect of my life, coloring my view of the world and excelled at being a douche waffle. I named it Andy.
Shortly before my 30th birthday, I gave birth to Epic Tiny Human Number Two. The combination of Epic Tiny Humans 1 and 2, my full-time work schedule, full-time college schedule to finally finish my bachelor’s degree, drawing and painting daily, and Jerk Face Anxiety Andy was just too much.
I physically do not have the time to make it perfect. If I can’t make it perfect, then I am a waste. It isn’t going to be what it needs to be. I have missed the mark. I should spare others the duty of having to experience the visceral product of my own human failings.
The confluence of worth and perfection have had 32 years to take root in me. I know on a surface level that this is a broken line of reasoning. My heart, on the other hand, makes no such distinction. I would never say these words to my children, yet I am so comfortable saying these things to myself. I would tell my children, “Show up, work hard, be a finisher, and then let it go.” Why is there one standard for them and a separate one for me?
So here I am, sitting at the proctor site in my work clothes, clicking aimlessly through the questions on an exam that has enormous ramifications on my employment. I put my head between my hands and take a deep breath, trying valiantly to slow my pulse.
Then I give my anxiety the proverbial finger and banish him to the corner. “Shut up, you big douche canoe. Can’t you see I have shit to do? You are not helping. Go sit down somewhere else.”
I started using the line my sister tells me when I start to go down the brain drain, “Dude. You did the work. You are giving your best, even if it isn’t perfect. You showed up. Don’t forget, Cs get degrees.” There is power to be found in doing good enough. Completion trumps perfection every time.
I picked answer C on all the questions regarding annuities and moved the heck on. The rest of the exam went quickly, and I hit the almighty submit button.
And—I passed! I freaking passed! I had no idea if I got a C+ or an A+. It didn’t matter. At that point I didn’t give a crap. I’d finished. I’d studied with a sick baby on my lap, though lunch breaks, and late into the night. It wasn’t perfect but I’d shown up and done the thing. High-five for doing the thing!
Every day I battle my intrinsic need for perfection and the crippling beast of anxiety. I don’t have a magical formula or a magic wand for my life. But it’s my fear. I’ve earned the right to look it in the face and tell it to go sit somewhere else. It lives here, but I don’t have to let it call the shots. I work hard. I love big. I am committed to following my curiosity without shame. I will be brave enough to embrace the power of being good enough. Those who get there last still make it past the finish line.
When all else fails, Cs get degrees.
Jerusha Gray is insatiably curious. This curiosity, coupled with a brain that never shuts up, drives her to paint and draw, read prodigiously, make music, write, and sing in grocery stores. Find her on Instagram @palegrayink and at www.facebook.com/palegrayink. This piece was originally shared Sept. 29, 2015 at www.facebook.com/palegrayink.