If you follow Michelle Obama on Instagram and watch her InstaStories, you know she shares inspiring videos of real people she meets on her Becoming tour. They share who they’re becoming with the simple line, “I am becoming (fill in the blank).” Every time I’d see one of these videos I’d ask myself who I was becoming, but couldn’t put my finger on it. In the last few weeks, however, I feel like I can finally fill in the blank. I would say, “I am becoming a B- student.” I know this sounds odd, but I actually think this realization will help me lead a happier and more successful life. And I think this freedom to be a B- student might free you to do more things you love, and maybe things you’ve been too afraid to try.
First, just a little background so you can understand why this is such a “revolutionary” realization for me. Those who knew me through my high school years know I was a bit of a nerd. You could probably say I was a bit of a perfectionist. I studied hard and got really good grades. My high school class schedule included almost every Advanced Placement (AP) class available. There are a lot of reasons why I put so much pressure on myself, but that’s a whole other story.
Anyway, I don’t say all this to boast. My point is that I put in a LOT of time and effort into doing well in school, and my self-concept was strongly rooted in how well I did in school. When I thought I had done really badly on a test, I’d berate myself and completely overreact. I’d convince myself I had FAILED and would spiral downwards into a sea of trepidation and fear that my future was doomed.
I’m not exaggerating how awful and fearful I’d feel in those moments. It’s only in hindsight that I can recognize how dramatic I was and how I placed so much value on things that don’t matter as much as I thought they did.
I remember in 7th grade, when I was only 13 years old, I studied for 7 hours straight for a mid-term. A mid-term! I was pretty brutal to myself.
Why I’m Becoming a B- Student
Until I submitted my college applications senior year I was pretty much a straight A student. After that, senioritis hit hard. Then college. College was really hard for me and I couldn’t manage straight A’s by a longshot, but my perfectionist tendencies largely remained.
Once I entered the workforce, my supervisors often expressed their appreciation for my “attention to detail” and “strong organizational skills”. I meticulously reviewed everything I did and turned in high quality work.
So, when I say I’m becoming a B- student, I’m not saying that you or I should turn in crappy work or be unprofessional at work. I work for a professional services firm so what I do has to look polished and professional.
Let me clarify as I describe the 3 reasons why I’m becoming a B- student.
1. My perfectionist tendencies — my self-imposed pressure to be an “A” student — really hold me back. Because I thought getting the perfect grades, getting into the perfect school was everything when I was growing up, I really held myself back. I never gave myself the chance to explore other things I could be good at — or bad at. I pretty much stuck to what I knew I could do well with predictable effort and predictable results. By doing this, I sheltered myself from failure.
While I don’t like to dwell on what-ifs, looking back I can say I never gave myself the chance to explore my potential in other areas. I think that if I had thrown off the shackles a bit in high school, I might have become something a bit more creative. Perhaps a choreographer!
Now, I’m at a point in life where I realize I have to get off the path I’m used to taking. As I try new things — blogging for instance — I have to be willing to turn in “B-” work in order for me to keep moving forward. Otherwise, I’ll never get anything done. I’ll be paralyzed. And then I won’t produce anything that will help me learn from my mistakes. I won’t produce anything that others may find useful.
I think the mistakes part is key. If I don’t make mistakes for fear of embarrassing myself, then I won’t do anything. I’m just going to sit paralyzed in my own thoughts and take no action.
2. I just don’t have the time I once had. Two kids, two full-time working parents. We don’t have much time anymore. Sometimes we wonder what in the hell we did with our time before kids. What did we do with ALL THAT TIME??
Let me give you a concrete example of why being a B- student is helping me get sh!* done in my limited time. I’ve been blogging since August. Though it’s been hard to keep up at times, I’m generally trying to post once a week. A few weeks ago, after joining an online community, I lamented how it took me 8-10 hours to write one post. Because of work and kids, I generally have from 9-11pm on weeknights to work on blog stuff.
If you do the math, that basically means I use up all my “free time” creating one blog post per week. That gives me no time to do anything else. No time to think about the bigger picture for my blog, and learn online strategies. I have yet to tackle SEO, for example.
After lamenting this big problem, someone in that online community basically referred me to a podcast episode where one of my favorite podcasters interviews a life coach. The life coach basically says, give yourself a time limit, do B- work, and just GET. IT. DONE.
After listening to that podcast episode, I gave myself two hours to draft a blog post. Guess what? I did it in an hour and a half. Then I spent another hour editing and adding pictures. A vast difference from the 8-10 hours I had spent on one post the week before.
Now, maybe you’re laughing at me and saying, “Well, Esther. Your blog posts are not that great. Maybe you shouldn’t be turning in B- work on your blog posts.”
To that I’d say this. I’m so glad I’ve had this mindset shift because I’m getting more stuff done. And as I get more stuff done and just do it, I learn and gain more clarity. That big picture stuff I was referring to. Now I have just a little bit more time to think about that.
3. I want to show my kids it’s ok not to be perfect. I’m a mom now. And over the years I’ve grown a little bit wiser. For instance, I now know I want people to remember me for more than my well-formatted and proofread deliverables. The what, I’m still figuring out. And that’s ok!
I want my kids to know it’s ok not to be perfect. I already see signs in Haru (3yo) of that need to please, need to be perfect. He says, “I can’t do it” or “I don’t know how”. And when he says it in that super whiney voice it’s because he’s immobilized.
I want my kids to know it’s more important to put in the effort, to try new things — and if they fail, that’s ok. They learn from those failures and they keep trying new things and taking risks. They’ll lead a fuller life because of it. And they’ll be able to figure out what they love and don’t love, what they’re really good at and what they’re not so great at.
There are some areas of our lives in which, yes, we may still need to produce “A” work. But are there certain areas in which you can be a B- student and therefore produce more work, get practice, and learn more as you chug along? I place my bets that if you freed yourself up to be a B- student, and show yourself a little grace, you’d actually be able to gain a lot more clarity in life.
I hope this helps for some of you who feel like you’re holding back because of the pressure to do “A” work all the time. What would you be doing more of if you let yourself be a “B-” student?
I’d love to stay connected! If you’re interested in staying in touch on topics like this, click the button below: