by Ali Valdez
When I made the decision to finally finish my Masters, I had also planned for one of my two high-tech client projects to end. It was okay to have a few months of 80 hour weeks leading up to this because graduate school is expensive AF.
It was a dovetail scenario, meticulously planned.
That is until my client extended, and my other client renewed. I had registered for more classes than I should. So now it was like having three jobs, all computer screen intensive, simultaneously. Maybe this wouldn’t be too difficult to manage, only I am also a single mother with multiple businesses as well as a yoga teacher passionate about her practice.
Within six weeks of graduate school starting, I jacked my low back, strained my eyes, compromised my posture and expanded my thighs; and yet, this journey into an overworking darkness proved to be the biggest (short-term, not to be relived ever again) blessing in disguise.
It forced me into a desperate corner. Not only did my ridiculous time management skills have to get even better, but it began to chisel away at one of my worst inner demons—the unrelenting disease of perfectionism. There simply wasn’t time to be perfect at all three tasks, PLUS yoga teaching and the quality of my practice. Something, many things, simply had to give without inner negotiation. My desire to overachieve was the first thing drop-kicked out the window of my consciousness.
Quickly I realized that I cannot do everything to my usual level with so much on my plate. Graduate school my first semester, I applied for academic dispensation to take more classes than typically permitted.
Note to self: dumb.
I also thought to better motivate myself, I would take the hardest classes first. You know, get them out of the way.
Note to self, part deux: super dumb.
Client extending again, and the other entrusting me with more strategic workloads, I was headlong into a death spiral one might assign to anxiety. It manifested particularly in one course which paralyzed me. I know in quantitative methods and statistics I just couldn’t do my best work, so I just quit functioning. Weekly quizzes, I barely passed; one I even flunked.
As the weeks went by, the reading, the research, the APA references, and the homework just kept piling up. One project impacted strategy planning for an almost $1B business; the other project interfaced globally with over 70k Enterprise customers. There were no shortcuts. Everything was demanding world-class results. For the first time, I felt sciatic nerve pain.
To make matters worse, for f*** sake, I took all of this on DURING THE SUMMER, when my child is out of school, provoking and demanding constant entertainment and stimulation, and the only season where the sun is amply shining and I long to be outside. For the love of God, I wanted a nap! But, alas, no dice!
Then it hit me; my own lil epiphany. My inner angel spoke to me:
“Better to just turn something in than fall behind and waste energy worrying about it.” I’ll be, I clicked send. I got 22/25. Ok, not perfect, but also not the end of the world. Then I did it again. Just clicked send. I got 98/100. Sigh. Then I kept doing it. I did the best I could with the time that I had and become unattached to the outcome, clicking send to my little heart’s content. Ironically, writing the research papers got easier. My final project for a marketing course I completed three weeks early, much to the bewilderment of the professor.
The semester eventually wound down to a close- two A’s, one B, plus a whole lot of contentment and a full set of hair.
This is not to say that I don’t give a shit about the work I do. I just came to realize that part of honoring and respecting myself is not constantly crushing my morale and metabolism under the ruthless lens of self-criticism and a perfectionism I managed almost obsessively, but which remained a hungry ghost that could never be satisfied.
So I let go. I gave myself permission to just be okay. This semester, there is only one client, and all the same parental and yoga responsibilities. What’s missing is the attitude, the despair, the constant nagging that I could be better than I am. In reality, that’s just not the case, but a silly and outdated ideal that stuck to me unawares.
Today, I am just me. I am enjoying life and my graduate studies are low-stress. Your attitude can be your greatest ally, or your worst enemy. It’s your choice today, as it was mine, which way you choose to honor or tear yourself apart.