Tuesday, November 1, 2011

persistence; or, I get knocked down, but I get up again (and now that stupid song is stuck in your head)

About 15 years ago (back in the health insurance days), I was seeing a new therapist. As is protocol she asked me to share my history, why I was there, and what I wanted from our sessions. She asked me to write out my story and then read it to her. I began listing the litany of failures that had led me to her couch. At the time I was not in school, unemployed, and completely supported by my parents. I had traveled a little and had tried many paths to independence only to land broke and broken at my parent's door. After I finished reading my list I started to sob. The therapist looked at me and said, "Why do you see yourself as a failure?" I looked at her and didn't really say anything, I just gestured at the list of failed attempts to build my life. She said, "Well, I see a very determined young lady who has amazing persistence. A lot of people in your situation would have given up long ago." I sat up a little straighter and stopped crying.

While in grad school, I was asked to participate in an experiment for the psychology department. I was asked to take a test in which I would take a silly test and then answer some questions afterwords. The test was simple there was a paper with rows and rows of dots. I would need to connect the dots and form boxes. The task was to guess how many boxes I could make in a given time. The test started. The administrator asked me how many boxes I could fill in 30 seconds. I said, "30." The administrator raised her eyebrows, wrote down 30 and started the timer. I did 20. The adminstrator told me that was "very good" for the first try, that most people get 15 or less on their first try. I barely heard her. I was frustrated that I did not get 20. Round 2. "How many do you think you can get in 45 seconds?" I said, "50."  She didn't say anything and started the timer. I got 45. The administrator could see that I was frustrated. She told me that one per second is really great, and that is among the fastest anyone has ever done the task. I could barely hear her as I was too upset and frustrated. I just asked if I could do it again. She said okay, and asked how many I could get in 45 seconds. I said "55." She stopped and looked at me. Finally, she said, "Why? Why would you think that you could do that many?" I explained that now that I had done it a few times I felt like I was experienced and I had an idea for a strategy that would really work. She wrote something in her notes and started the test. I got 50. And once again, I was upset because I did not meet my goal. When the test was over the test adminstrator took me aside and said to me, "Listen, this isn't any of my business, but you are putting way too much pressure on yourself." 

There is a scene in Forrest Gump where Jenny, whose goal is to become a singer, is working in a strip club. She takes Forrest to see her act which consists of her sitting naked on a stool and playing guitar. The audience jeers her as she sings. She is humiliated and embarrassed by this mockery of her dream. Forrest says, "Jenny had accomplished her dream, she was a singer." I wanted to become an American Literature professor. Instead, I am an adjunct composition instructor.  I believe that somewhere in between the lines of these stories is enlightment. That between the person who is persistant and the one who sets her expectations far too high is the answer to how to improve my current life. It has to do with remembering to persist and remembering that failure is objective. It has to do with forgiving myself for my mistakes, complimenting myself on my successes, and picking myslef up and carrying on.

1 comment:

  1. I have this same problem with setting incredibly lofty goals and then fretting (to say the least) that I have not yet achieved them.

    And, yes, now that song is stuck in my head.