“Chocolate or vanilla?” The fast-food attendant asked. Diana thought for a moment, decided her decision process was taking too long, and ended up saying, “You choose”. The woman looked at her as if she was crazy. Di noticed, so she said: “Surprise me,” which got her a smile from the woman. “Okay. This job doesn’t usually get me tiny powers like this”. Di smiled back.
As she walked back to the dorms, she thought about whether to take the long way or not. She couldn’t decide, and it was making her nervous, so she decided to take the short way and get back as soon as possible.
When she got to her room, she couldn’t decide on what to do: laundry, cleaning, studying, relaxing, showering, or trying to find a better job. Everything had positives and negatives. If I do laundry, I’ll have clean clothes and I’ll feel like I’ve accomplished something. On the other hand, though, I still have clean clothes in the closet and what I really need is to study for my exams. I won’t be able to study if I don’t relax first, though. Although, usually when I try to nap I end up sleeping for at least three hours. Maybe I should shower first. Or watch a little TV. As Di was having these thoughts, she would walk around her dorm room in circles. She did that for an hour, until her roommate came back.
Okay, now I have to decide on what to do, otherwise she’ll think I’m crazy. Just do something. Anything.
So Di took a shower. As she came back to the room, she tried to decide whether to dry her hair with the blow-drier or to just let it dry naturally. She sat on the bed and thought about it. I wonder if blow-drying my hair means I’m superficial. It doesn’t take that long. But it wastes electric energy needlessly. I don’t pay this bill though. I think I’ll dry it. It will look better. I wonder if the noise would bother my roommate though. It looks like she’s studying. My hair could just air-dry. Yeah, I’ll let it air dry.
“Everything okay?,” her roommate asked.
“Nothing. Just asking”
Di wondered whether her nervousness was becoming too apparent. Maybe I should pretend everything is normal. After all, there is nothing wrong with my life. It’s an absolutely ordinary life. Why am I always nervous? I should study now. But my hair will get my books wet. I have too much hair, it takes so long to dry. Why do I have so much hair? It’s pretty though. Am I biting my nails again? Argh, why am I like this? I haven’t done anything productive today. Maybe I needed to take the day to relax. But have I relaxed even for a second today?
“Do you want to go grab some dinner at the food hall?”
“You hungry? Do you want to come with me to the food hall?”
“Um, I don’t know. Sure, I guess, I just have to… um, I forgot.”
“Come on, we all have to eat.”
As they sat down to eat, Di’s roommate Julia smiled at her. I wonder why she’s smiling at me? Did I do something wrong and she’s trying to ease me into the conversation? Or is she just being nice?
After some small talk, Julia asked:
“It seems like there’s something constantly bothering you. Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
Di wondered whether that was the right answer. Should I have explained that I’m always nervous? Julia and I aren’t really friends though. Plus, you can only be so honest with friends. Right? Real friendship requires honesty but how much honesty is too much? I want to have friends. But I need to focus on my studies.
“You know, Di, college is a difficult time for everybody.”
“I’m leaning a ton. In high school I was crazy about getting perfect A’s and doing all my extracurriculars perfectly. I couldn’t accept making mistakes. It’s crazy, but here I’m getting B’s and B minuses but I’m learning so much more and I’m so much happier. I think letting go of perfectionism really helped me.”
She’s being open with me. I wonder why. It seems like a bad idea though, to let go of A’s. What am I thinking though? It’s better for the curve if she’s okay with B’s. What a horrible thought, who am I? Also, in my last exam I got a C. I no longer get straight A’s. I’m afraid I’ll fail. That would be a disaster. I can’t let that happen. Why am I here? I should be either in my room studying or in the library.
“You’ve been quiet for, like, two whole minutes.”
“Oh. I’m sorry, I was just thinking I have to study.” Why was I so honest?
“I see. Okay. I just wanted to tell you: it’s okay to not be perfect. It’s okay to make mistakes. That’s how we learn. It seems counterintuitive but we get closer to being our best selves when we allow ourselves to make mistakes, learn from them and do things differently the next time.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“Because you seem to second-guess all your decisions, that is, when you make any.”
“I just like to think all my decisions through so I don’t make unnecessary mistakes. I don’t see how it’s any of your business.”
“Oh. I’m sorry, I was just trying to help.”
That Friday, Di failed an exam. She cried herself to sleep. I can’t fail out of college. Why can’t I just study more? But I also need to take care of myself. Studying is taking care of myself though. I need a real job. Wow, that sounds insulting to my coworkers at the library, the ones who aren’t students. I’m such a horrible person. No, I’m fine. I’m perfectly ordinary. That’s why I’m failing college. I can’t do this. I’ll drop out tomorrow. No, that would disappoint my parents too much. And myself. Could I live with myself? I’ll just study harder. What if I study harder and I still fail? I’ll schedule a talk with my dean. But won’t that make me seem weak? I don’t know what to do.
“Hello, Diana, how can I help you?”
The dean was nice. Diana instantly started crying.
“I’m failing out. Everything’s too hard. I don’t know what to do anymore. I can’t even decide what to study first. All my classes are important. And I need to read my books, I can’t not read. And there’s no time to shower, although I did yesterday. I don’t know what to do anymore. I think I’m not cut out for college.”
“Woah, okay, okay, settle down. I’ll help you.”
The dean handed Di a tissue.
“It sounds like you want to study perfectly. To study courses in the right order. There is no such thing though. Nothing in life is perfect. Nothing.”
“You sound like my roommate.”
“She sounds like a wise woman.”
“She’s a psychology major.”
“I see. Do you understand though? If you let go of studying perfectly, of doing anything perfectly, you’ll get more done and get closer to your goal of graduating?”
“You think I can still graduate? I just failed an exam.”
“Listen to what you’re saying. Of course you can. It’s one exam. Can I schedule an appointment with a counselor for you?”
After two months of sessions, Di started loosening up. She stopped considering all the possible and improbable positives and negatives of every situation before taking action. She started accepting mistakes. It was a slow process, but the next semester she handled things more lightly. She also didn’t fail any exams. After all, in the big scheme of things, does it really matter whether she blow dries her hair or not?
“Chocolate or vanilla?” The fast-food attendant asked.
“Aw, I thought you’d say ‘surprise me’ again.”
“Nah, today I know what I want.” I know what I want and I accept the results. I can make decisions. I don’t have to be perfect, or make the perfect decision, because that does not exist. I feel like I’ve grown. I know I have.