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Heavy lifting

My psychiatrist and I did some heavy lifting Wednesday. Fall semesters are usually difficult for me, but this semester has been just a straw short of back-breaking. So, slouched on the couch, I talked with K about—for starters—why I think I have to spend so much time marking up freshman essays.

Because I want to be the best composition teacher, was my answer. The best.


I don't know. I can't help it.

Is it because you're seeking approval?

(Pause). Yes.


That was the key question, one we had taken peeks at before but never really dwelled on. The reasons are wired deep into my core, but I know they're there. I am continually seeking approval for what I do from everybody I have more than casual contact with. I want them to like me, to say I'm doing a good job, to compliment my writing, to think I'm a helluva guy, etc. When I don't sense that approval I get uptight, which triggers negative self-talk, which can lead to a slide into the deep blues.

Since Wednesday, I've been trying to let go. I'm no longer going to spend 40 minutes on each essay. I cut it to 15 minutes yesterday, got a boatload of essays done, and still provided detailed comments and guidance on each one. Was I providing as much feedback as before? No, but my brain was fresher for each one, so maybe the comments were more incisive. Maybe by providing fewer comments, I made it easier for the students: the old less-is-more idea.

The seeking-approval thing? That's going to be more difficult, because the issue goes way back, and I do it without even realizing it. In just thinking about it over the past three days, though, I've realized it's hard work to try to please everyone—and there are a lot of "everyones."

I e-mailed a friend earlier this week and quoted Shakespeare: "To thine own self be true," with a heavy emphasis on "own." It's time to take my own advice.


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 31st, 2009 04:49 pm (UTC)
Wow. I don't think I've spent 40 minutes grading one paper in the five years I've been here, and doubt that I ever will.

Nice to see you're making progress on letting go.
Oct. 31st, 2009 05:33 pm (UTC)
I'm only just now realizing how way, way over the top my old grading system was. If you've never spent 40 minutes on a paper, that means you figured out the right way to do it.
Oct. 31st, 2009 07:38 pm (UTC)
I actually had occasion to speak that very phrase, "To thine own self be true" the same night you sent it, and to the very fellow it was intended for.

This is totally cool introspective stuff, this here, and I hope you think of it as more of a spelunking expedition than anything negative.

It's hard to turn off perfectionism, but I love the "less is more" vantage point. It makes great sense.

Oct. 31st, 2009 10:18 pm (UTC)
Glad to hear there was a time and place for that quotation. I'm going to be leaning heavily on it.

"Spelunking" is a great word and absolutely appropriate. Posting about this topic (and not disabling the comments) was a way to set the agenda, as it were. There it is: It's out there. Gotta commit to it now.
Oct. 31st, 2009 11:26 pm (UTC)
And the good news is, the sky is still firmly attached to the heavens...
Nov. 1st, 2009 04:59 am (UTC)
I think there are two people whose approval you need: You're married to one and the other one is named "Coppola." I think that's about it. And of course, your dogs will love you no matter what.
Nov. 1st, 2009 12:51 pm (UTC)
Right you are on all counts.
Nov. 1st, 2009 05:53 am (UTC)
And I think there are many people who recognize the high quality work you do and the efforts you put in -- you just have a very hard time hearing them say what high regard they hold you in.
Nov. 1st, 2009 12:56 pm (UTC)
Thank you for the kind words, Carole. When I was a young man, the parish priest once said, "There's no such thing as good enough." The problem is that I listened, and believed.
Nov. 1st, 2009 06:37 pm (UTC)
very little good, it seems, has ever come from listening to those pesky religious. I think the only thing I gleaned from thirteen years of religion classes was a hefty dose of guilt and self-loathing. Amen.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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