Graduation season is upon us. Lately, every time I log onto Facebook, I see my friends updating their statuses saying that their final projects and theses have been submitted and they just picked up their caps and gowns. B’s work schedule has changed a bit to accommodate the exams, and in a couple weeks he will have a really long day at work when he attends the students’ graduation.
I finished graduate school in 2005. I indeed graduated, but it wasn’t with the acclaim and excitement that I had always thought it would be. When I was a college student, I loved studying and I fancied myself an incredibly serious student, which I was to a degree, face-stuffing and all (see “About” page). At that time I fashioned my identity to be pretty one-dimensional, with my role as a student and a smartypants at its core. It was academic achievement or nothing for me. Even my decision to date B, who was also a really dedicated student and generally bright person, was partially self-flattering because being with him meant that I was a really good student who only surrounded herself with people who confirmed that image I believed in so much.
So there was no question that I would go to grad school directly after college to get my MA, and do so with the gusto and success that I had received my BA. I saw this as an absolute fact, and I never once questioned it. My decision to go to grad school was as simple as black and white. When I got there and struggled to keep up and to maintain the same enthusiasm that I had when I was in college, you can imagine how befuddled I was. All of a sudden, things weren’t as obvious to me about who I was. Surrounded by people who I saw as smarter than me, I was forced to admit that the “obviousness” of me as an academic wasn’t panning out. I finished the degree, but I hated every second of it, and I didn’t attend my graduation ceremony.
I have until recently tended to see most things in black and white, just like I did graduate school. Things were either right or wrong, I was either smart or stupid, things were going entirely well or incredibly badly. I rested on the perceived polarities in my life for direction when I couldn’t find any elsewhere and I went through years gauging situations based on my extreme perceptions.
Now, I would say that there are quite a few problems with seeing all things in terms of black and white. Having gotten to know a lot of the readers of my blog through your own blogs and through your comments, I have a feeling many of you would agree with me on the pitfalls, and there are plenty. Whether you agree with me or not, I’d love for you to tell me your opinions in the comments.
But the one downside to approaching life with an all-or-nothing attitude that has caused me the most trouble is that when you see things in these absolute terms, you have to be incredibly convicted of your thoughts. There really is no room for doubting yourself. And obviously, if you have any vulnerability or insecurity about what you’re doing, you’re going to have some major problems.
To be sure, I have a lot of insecurities. A LOT. I doubt myself every single day. Even when I think I’m making the right choices, I am still fraught with anxiety that I’m going to screw up because I wasn’t 100% sure from the get-go of my plans. I also have a hard time self-gauging how I’m generally doing in life, so I’ve relied on seeing things in black and white to give me some sort of false confirmation that I’m doing OK.
I’m really glad that as I’ve matured, my inclination to see things in black and white has diminished. It’s extremely difficult to be a good partner to your spouse if you’re adamantly reluctant to deviate from some arbitrary set of perceptions you’ve set out for yourself. Most of the problems I had with B during the first years of our marriage were based in me having some black and white expectation of what our relationship should look like. And now that I’m a parent, I’m learning that it’s altogether impossible to be happy if you can’t bend and curve with your family or allow yourself to see the colors of life beyond black and white. You just have to open your eyes, see the colors, and recognize that they make each day a whole lot more interesting.
Miss C responds well to things that are black and white. She’s only about five weeks old, so those two opposites give her some meaning to the wholly new and foreign-to-her world. She needs those polarities. As her parent, though, I am happy to see the colors of life. I make decisions now based not on the way I want to see things but on the complexities of the places that are in between opposites. And right now, that is something I will stand by. I may not wholly subscribe to any one philosophy of parenting, but that’s what’s right for us. I am a parent who lets the colors of the world inform the way I bring up my daughter.
It’s a lot more beautiful that way.