I finished the book. It left me feeling a bit down, thinking about my overachieving friends when I was in high school and the years that I, too, tried to live on very little sleep to be the best. Sometimes I think the lack of sleep might have stunted my growth (I don’t quite clear 5’2″). Even now I give up sleep to get things done, and when I read that this is a likely factor in my struggle to lose weight, I feel angry and consider drastic measures like attempting to grade papers while riding an exercise bike or maybe spending eight hours a day on a treadmill (I can read while I’m on there, and I have plenty to read).
I have a bit of a problem in my head sometimes, thinking things have to be all or nothing. It’s very hard to walk the moderate path. I pour myself into teaching at the expense of a clean house (which I tend to completely ignore until someone wants to come over and visit); when I try to lose weight, I am either firmly and extremely committed, or I leap off the wagon after taking a running start. Blogging is one way I try to practice moderation, and I admit that I’m not very good at it yet – - ideally I would like to do at least a little bit every day (maybe take one day off a week), but more often I walk away from it for days or weeks at a time if I can’t fully commit to a self-designated weekly post minimum. Reading about the overachieving kids, who stress themselves out to be the best, I was perversely reminded of myself at various times in my life.
But enough about me. The book ends with updates on the students featured in the case studies. Robbins mentions that further updates are available on her website, but I could not find them. With few exceptions, these are “all” kids – pushing themselves in every aspect of their lies, even if it’s painful to do so. It sounds as though some of them will be able to relax a bit once they enter college (and the Harvard Freshman featured in the book sounds as though he is going to be just fine – I really wish I could have found updated information about him on Robbins’ website). She also gives suggestions to parents, students, and others involved in education.
We live in an extremely competitive society, and it’s only getting worse. I look at my smart, talented, beautiful little daughter and, with all my heart, I want the best for her. We work hard to encourage her without pressuring her, but I think she has already internalized some of the socially-driven expectation of perfection. Here is an example: lately, she will only write her name in capital letters. Her name is Noa, so there is only one real lowercase letter to write, and she won’t do it. She has been writing her name for a very long time, but she had been using upper- and lowercase letters until very recently. I asked her about it yesterday – dismissively, she said, “It’s okay. I don’t know how to make a lowercase ‘a’ so I don’t write my name like that anymore.” I let it drop so it doesn’t become a “thing,” but she’s right – she did struggle with that “a.” Hers looked like a “p” so her name would look like “Nop” whenever she wrote it. I would try to work with her, and presumably so would her teachers at school, and she was really improving – the tail on the backwards “a” was getting smaller and smaller. Then one day she “fixed” the problem by reverting to all-caps. This way, no one corrects her writing – her capital “A” is excellent. How can I help her fix this (the fear of imperfection, not the imperfect penmanship) without making it worse?