How Perfection Drove Me To Leave College

“Hi,

my name is Ellie, and I have a fear of imperfection,” I say, making eye contact only with my hands, which I have folded in my lap.

“Hi, Ellie,” you all chime back.

“You see, I was born this way,” I say, flashing back to the time I threw a fit because my mom braided one of my pigtails thicker than the other.

“How does it affect you?” asks Yaris, the guidance counselor, who insists on wearing linen pants everyday and hasn’t cut his hair in two years.

I stare at him, as if I’m debating my answer. “Well, my desire for perfection holds me back, y’know? I get so overwhelmed by the idea of making the ‘best’ choice or needing to excel that I think I sabotage myself. So, I guess I keep picking the road most traveled.” Without thinking, I add, “it also has something to do with my fear of disappointing people.”

“Wait, what do you mean by sabotage? You don’t produce your best work? Is that not a contradiction?” you ask.

And to that, I respond, ”I freeze up because of my fear of disappointing people.”

Basically, it’s easier for me to produce no work, than less-than-perfect work. Now, I know I’m not the only person who has symptoms of late work, class absences, low test scores, “missed” calls from parents, last minute cancellations, headaches, nausea, etc. I know this is treatable and not in anyway an excuse for my actions. So, before you, folks, take offense or exception, I am aware that this is a personal problem: one that I am fixing. In fact, this post is a testament to my changing ways.

I say…no more writing blog posts on a word document, copying and pasting them to my site, proofreading them a dozen times, and keeping them in my drafts for only me to read. No more. Instead, I am writing this directly to my site, and I vow to only proof read once…well, maybe twice.

I know. Gasp. (Ok, but seriously, if you see a misplaced comma or a mixed metaphor PLEASE don’t mention it. Ignorance is bliss, they say.)

“So, folks, I have decided to veer off the path. I’m taking my future into my own hands. Yup. That’s right. I’ll be packing up and moving to the a remote island for the rest of the summer.”

The group seems non-plussed. “And then you’re going back to school?” you ask again. Gosh, such a nosey bunch.

I look you right in the eye and say, “Nope.”

Yaris gives me a warning glance for the tone in my voice. He is passed verbally reprimanding me, as it does not work very well. On the off-chance he tries to chastise me, my eyes glaze over; I half-heartedly apologize, and then say whatever I wanted anyway. It’s our routine.

I mindfully continue.  “There is nothing for me at college, especially that college. All of a sudden one morning a couple of weeks ago I wake up, stare at my ceiling, trying to find the courage to even sit up in bed, much less get out and go through the motions of the day. And I start thinking to myself, ‘why am I choosing to be so unhappy? Why am I paying god-knows how much money to be so unhappy at this college that is doing nothing for me?’”

I know the answer, though; it’s because that’s the path I was put on. You go to high school, do well, apply to impressive colleges,-and, again, do well. And then you get a job…one of those ones where you sit hunched over your little, grey desk, shuffling a couple of insignificant papers, debating marching right into your bosses office, and quitting on the spot. But, then you think,  “Nope. This pays the bills.” And you think of little Jimmy’s god-awful, crooked teeth and your husband’s wine collection. I mean who even needs that much wine?

Okay,

so maybe that’s not actually how the decision came about for me to up and move to Nassau for the summer. And maybe and I didn’t quite announce it in the way my sassy persona that lives inside my head did. In fact, it looked more like a girl lying in a ball in the middle of her messy room having an anxiety attack of the extreme upheaval she was causing in her life.

Regardless, I need to do this.

I toyed with the idea of running away and becoming a ski bum who lived in Montana and worked the 12am-7am maid shift at a hotel when I was a junior in high school. Those around me talked me out of it. How could I throw away such a good high school education to be someone who doesn’t shower and is mistaken for a man half the time? There’s that. So, I applied to colleges…a wide-array of them, ranging for communications colleges, to liberal arts, to arts schools. I would study filmmaking at the latter.

I was accepted

into film school, and everything seemed as if it were heading towards my becoming a renowned sports filmmaker. At the last minute, though, I pulled back the reins and decided instead to go to a small, liberal arts college in Upstate New York. It seemed familiar and manageable. And, I have to admit that mostly, it seemed to satisfy the inquiring minds about my plan after high school.

Sadly, I chose a school that stifled my creativity with its predictable, “liberal” expectations, a small campus and a whole lot of small thinking. Now, I don’t want to just bash it; I made lasting friendships, put myself outside of my comfort zone, and learned from teachers in a manner I would never get in a large lecture hall. However, I know there is more for me out there.

I stayed there for two years.

Freshman year was rocky, but I stuck it out for a second one to see if I would be happier once things settled down and I had found a solid group of friends. So, that never happened. I spent my sophomore year getting sucked into unnecessary drama, which, if I’m honest, I have to take some credit for. I did my part in hurting people who I cared about. Regardless, the atmosphere at the college was not for me.

I decided to take the year of in May. Before that, every semester at the same time, even in boarding school, once I had packed up the last remains of my room, I would look back at the vast emptiness and wonder if I would ever be looking at these basic wooden twin XL beds, again.

But somehow in the past, I was pulled back in, for this reason or that. I made a commitment to my rowing team. I am signed up for a class that seems really cool. I don’t know, man, I’m really missing my twin XL bed with the questionable stains on its mattress. But was that really the answer? Or was I just afraid to say, “Hey, wait a minute, people. This ‘thing’ that you keep telling me is so great – this four-years of college thing – is not for me. I’m sure of it.” I was afraid of going against the grain.

Admittedly,

I thought of what would be said about me behind my back. I imagined people rolling their eyes and saying,  “What does she think she will find out there?” “She’ll never make anything of herself without a four year college degree.”  I didn’t believe in myself enough to ignore what might be said about me. I was letting this made up voice in my head talk for others, this little perfectionist voice that wanted to be seen –well—as perfect. But away with that voice! (Not as easy as it sounds. I know. But, you have to start somewhere!)

So, there I am, a young woman with a blank year ahead of her and “nothing” scheduled or programmed. No beaten path. So, I am going to travel. After all, is there any better education? Shockingly, all it took to find shelter on my journey was a post on Mum’s Facebook reaching out to her network of friends around the world. Within a day I had offers to housesit and nanny in various places. (Ok, I have to pause here to publicly thank my mum for using her Facebook for my benefit. I have mocked her for years for her overuse of the site. Little did I know it would be an important tool for my travels. Thanks, Mum!)

My first conquest is Nassau, Bahamas

where I will be nannying for two children, ages six and seven, until the beginning of August. Once that adventure is complete, I will be meeting up with family on an island nearby (which appropriately is referred to as a family island). I will then travel to San Fransisco for a week to drive the Pacific Coast Highway with a friend (will it be clear by then?). After taking a short break–from the exhausting adventure of it all–back home in RI, it’s off to France I go to stay with my aunt, uncle, and cousins for the fall. And then lastly, a couple of months in Hawaii to visit Mum this winter. During entire year off, my plan is to take courses online and develop ideas for what I will be doing in the spring and next year.

I know. None of this sounds like a hardship. But for me, with so many unknowns, it’s a life-changer. Whew. I’m excited to see how it goes.