Are you a Straight A? Or a Total F?

July 24, 2017

Anyone have a friend like “Marisa”?  You know the type – amazingly good at everything she does.  She’s a VP at a major organization who travels internationally while raising her two young boys with the utmost care and concern and hosting neighborhood dinner parties that I’m told are all the rage (I’m told because, living one town over, I’m not privy to an invite but I see what attention to detail she puts into the set up).  She’s also extremely funny and kind, a supportive wife, a mentor to other women in business and a marvelous friend.

And according to her, she’s earning an F.

Why, you ask?  How can a woman so accomplished in so many ways be failing?

Maybe it’s because her grading system is exceptionally harsh.  I’m not sure who’s setting the curve but Marisa takes points off for her perfectly-normal-sometimes-less-than-perfect performances.

She feels she should be better organized.  More passionate about her career.  Able to solve her son’s age-appropriate misbehavior.  Five pounds thinner.  More creative.  More mindful.  The type of mom never to yell at her kids… I could go on and on  with the laundry list of demands to which she holds herself accountable, but you get it.

Her high standards are just that, so high, that anything less than the A+ she’s used to getting is something she sees as failure.  And if you’d ask her, she’d say she’s not a perfectionist.  She even agreed with my previously published post  “Perfectionism is the Killer of Creativity”. 

So, what constitutes a passing average these days?  For all of us over-achievers used to getting straight A’s at the top of the class, the thought of a mediocre C is appalling.  And yet, when there is no report card, no Dean’s list, no valedictorian, why are we still demanding we earn perfect grades?

Isn’t showing up and trying enough?  Can’t we win the attendance record just for putting on our pants and getting to work or getting the kids off to school and keeping the dog alive and the house passably presentable?

I pointed this out to her, that excelling in a few areas while feeling less than perfect in others is, in fact, perfectly understandable, even par for the course.  And that her definition of success would be nearly impossible for anyone to meet.  But it’s hard for Marisa to see that she’s doing a good job unless she’s doing the BEST job.  She’s the Russian judge who takes the extra tenth off the impressive routine because she didn’t stick the landing.  She’s a self-proclaimed Sucky Mother with a capital “S” on her apron-like cape.

So I ask her, and I ask my readers as well, if we’re not earning an A, does that mean we’re automatically getting an F?  What does a B look like?  Or, god forbid,  a C?  Can we do this life thing as a Pass/Fail or audit the class entirely and skip the grading process?  Why is our inner professor so hard to please?

And even if we take our studies seriously and earn that A, what kind of demands does the graduate program place on us?

I recently made a career leap, both literally – leaving my long-time role in television to embark on entrepreneurship – and figuratively – seeking a new philosophy about philosophy itself. I’m going for my Masters in Joy with a double-major in Enjoy the Ride and F-ck It, Life Is too Short to Worry About this Sh-t.  I’m getting used to new metrics of success, some of which need to be redefined daily.  Tomorrow I know there will be productive time on the syllabus.  For today my course of study included taking a nap with the dog.

But what I am holding myself accountable for are all of those things Marisa does so well without even knowing it – being a supportive colleague, and attentive and loving mom, a caring friend.  That’s the subject matter that truly matters.

This is life and it is only subject to living, not to grading.  There’s no classroom curve and no end to the course.  It’s about enjoying the ride and making an impact on the lives you encounter along the way.  And maybe – just maybe – getting an invite to one of those awesome dinner parties I’ve heard so much about and would never have the wherewithall to throw.

So, how about you, Professor So-Hard-On-Herself?  Are you getting an A or an F or something in between?  Can you participate in life-long learning and advance to the head of the class without defining your performance by a single letter?  Try letting go of your internal grading system and let GPA stand for something else.  May I suggest “Great Participant (in) Action”?


Valerie Gordon is an Emmy-award winning television producer.  Now the founder of Commander-in-She, LLC, she offers career strategy sessions and storytelling workshops to help clients harness the power of their stories.


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