I had an assignment deadline yesterday, for this fundraising course that I’m doing over the next six months. First essay in a long, long while — I found myself really stressing over it. Would I have enough time to finish? Would I get my writing mojo on? What if I produced something incomprehensible/incoherent? What if (nightmare) I failed?
Having spent too much time on this assignment and lost too much sleep, and backlogged lots of other commitments this week, today I’m in a chastened sort of mood. I feel all disillusioned with this course process. Fear is just a lie.
There was a moment, while walking home from spending time with friends yesterday evening, when I only had an hour left to submit my assignment and was still 600 words over, that I realised something really important. Given my personality type, aiming to do as well as I can on this course and stressing about performance is entirely the wrong goal. It just heightens tendencies that I already have to an unhealthy level. To be arrogant but honest, there is almost nothing that will stop me doing well, because academically, there has never seriously been such a thing as me doing badly.
The right thing to focus on, and what, for me, will actually determine the success of this course experience, is whether I have a life while completing the assignments. Whether I still have regular mealtimes and regular prayertimes and regular seeing people times. Whether I keep communicating with my housemates and cleaning the kitchen. And having a day off and going on runs.
C S Lewis writes something in the Screwtape Letters that has really helped me to see this thing clearly:
“We direct the fashionable outcry of each generation against those vices of which it is least in danger […] the game is to have them all running about with fire extinguishers whenever there is a flood, and all crowding to that side of the boat which is already nearly gunwale under.”
The world isn’t linear, it exists in continuums and tensions, and so in his sagely way, Lewis is able to remind me that actually, when I think I haven’t gone far enough in one direction, there’s the whole opposite end of the spectrum to tend to as well. And going in that direction — now there’s a challenge which feels unnatural. But upside-down success looks like deliberately leaning that way, even if only flailingly at first, for that is how to learn.
(Picture from here. With thanks.)