When I was in fifth grade, there was a period of time when I wouldn’t turn my homework in. Not because I hadn’t done it; I’d actually finished it far before most procrastinators would even decide to take a look at the assignment. No, my reason for not submitting my homework was that I didn’t think it was good enough.

In reading class, we were assigned a final essay. When I was passed the growing pile of essays, I self-consciously put a piece of scrap paper on the bottom of the stack and passed it on. Of course, the absence of my assignment from the pile did not go unnoticed. My mother got called in for a talk with my teacher, and I was eventually forced to surrender the essay.

Later on, the teacher told my mother that I would’ve gotten an A if I had turned in my essay on time. Instead I got a D+ since there was a policy penalizing late work. (In fifth grade! Apparently our fifth grade teachers were preparing us for life, but even college professors don’t usually lower the grades on late assignments that much.)

9yo
That’s me, a few months before all of this drama happened.

At the time I was definitely overthinking things. I’d worked hard on the essay, and I’d fulfilled and even exceeded the requirements of the assignment. The only part of the assignment I didn’t do was actually turning it in.

But sometimes you just have to go ahead and turn something in, even if you don’t think it’s perfect. Of course, it’s best to submit high-quality work. And there are definitely times when an extension on an assignment is warranted. But if you have a lot of performance-related anxiety like me, you’re probably being ridiculous when you decide your hard work isn’t good enough.

There were many times throughout my later school days when I didn’t turn in assignments I had done. But this didn’t help me do better work; instead, it negatively impacted my grades. In eleventh grade, I didn’t submit my math homework for two months straight. That’s a lot of points. Plus, I didn’t get feedback on my work that could have helped me improve. (Not to say my grades were all bad. I did well in most of my classes, and I went on to higher education.)

By the time I got to college, I had made a promise to myself: no matter what, turn something in for each assignment. And guess what? My grades were better than ever. I started to realize that what I thought wasn’t good enough could actually be above average. I was amazed first semester freshman year when my comparative government TA pulled me over and told me I was the top scorer on the midterm. Slowly my self-confidence increased. There were still times when I doubted that an essay I’d done well on was “A” material, but there were also times when I felt proud of myself for how far I’d come.

17yo
And that’s me at 17 after getting surprised with a birthday cake at a speech & debate tournament.

Of course, grades aren’t everything. What’s most important is what you learn from the work you do. And boy was I learning so much more. Since I was no longer so afraid of failing, I began raising my hand and participating in class discussions. I even went to see professors during their office hours, something I had been petrified of doing since a one-on-one meeting had the potential to end in embarrassment. I was no longer the quiet kid in the back of the classroom who might not turn in her homework; I was that kid who wasn’t afraid to ask a lab assistant for help when she needed a nudge in the right direction.

Now that I think about it, there is one more part of assignments that I frequently didn’t do: turning them in by the due date. In fifth grade I was offended by the strict rules surrounding late work. But now, I’m thankful. In college, one of my areas of study was journalism. For journalists, deadlines are extremely important; if you don’t turn your story in on time, you could affect the entire publication.

While some of my professors tended to be more laid back about due dates, my journalism professors were the opposite. If you didn’t make a deadline, your story earned an F grade, or in some cases, a zero. It was as if you hadn’t turned anything in at all. But guess what? I’m proud to say I made my deadlines, no matter what it took. And I avoided fact errors, which were also cause for an F grade.

rfljdgwn
And finally, a more current photo.

You’re probably wondering where I’m going with all of this. It might seem like I’m just taking the opportunity to brag about myself. And yeah, I am, kind of. (Can you blame me? I turned my academic life around. I rediscovered the joy of education! But I digress.) Still, there was a point to the story. I’ll express it through clichés: Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game. Reach for the moon — even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars. There is no such thing as failure, except for if you do not even try. (I could keep going, but you probably get the point.)

Despite everything I’ve gone through, I’m still a little afraid of starting new things. But I have a lot of things to say, and my journal is no longer enough of an audience for me. (Sorry, journal. It’s not you, it’s me.) My goal in college was to turn in every assignment; my new goal is to keep this blog updated. It took me a while to summon enough courage to write this post. But with each new piece of writing, it should get easier.

So I hope you’ll join me as I navigate the uncertainties of post-college life. I’ll be happy to have you along on the journey.

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One thought on “Reaching for the stars & other clichés

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