Saturday, April 14, 2007

Typoes [sic]

God is a remarkably consistent teacher sometimes, I've found--and She's quite insistent that the lessons continue until the learning catches up. Sometimes this takes a long, long time....

Of late, I've seen how God has been nudging me about my perfectionism. I've been exploring some of the stories I tell myself of who I am--uncovering how the "who" of these stories is rarely the essence of me, but rather something I've concocted to stay afloat in the world. One such story is that I'm valuable and worthy because I'm competent. In and of itself, competence is not a bad thing. I am presently in a brand new position creating a brand new foundation for a mid-sized university. As a one-woman show reporting to the president and the board, my day to day survival in this role depends on my competence. But when my sense of self, rather than my continued employment, begins to depend on doing it all perfectly, I realize it's time to simply chill. Chilling is not something I do naturally, though. And this whole competence/perfectionism thing is a very, very old and finely-crafted habit.

I began to notice not long ago that every time I communicate with my president, my board, the vice presidents, and others I regard as somehow "positionally significant," I give an inordinate amount of time to crafting my message. It might be a simple, "Let's meet on Friday and discuss the following" email, but I review it extensively. I read it aloud, I occasionally call my husband or my board chair and ask for their reactions, I print it and read it--all before hitting send. And invariably, when I'm printing it later for filing, or happen to review my original message as I'm skimming through a reply, I see a typo. Nothing big--but a typo nevertheless. Maybe a stray "g" appears on the end of a word like appreciationg (this obviously happened in this past week!), or perhaps I misuse a tense or pluralize a singular word. Though the errors manage to avoid my glare in my pre-send scrutiny, they leap out at me in this post-send review. After seeing this happen with uncanny consistency, I decided God was speaking.

Yesterday I said, in essence, "I've learned the lesson--enough!" I took my usual time in sending my board and the president a post-meeting review via email. My chair and I discussed the attachments, I made changes while we were on the phone, and I went through my usual routine--make a call, seek an opinion, print it out, read it aloud. Finally, I hit send. As I shared a coffee with a good friend, I described how God has been teaching me, speculating that I would once again find a mysterious typo reminding me that perfection is simply not my business.

After our coffee I returned to my office and opened the email. Scrolling quickly through, there were no obvious errors. Was I off the hook? I sat back in my chair and read again, feeling a bit of relief. For curiosity's sake, I clicked on my attachments--titles looked right. But as I read a description of our most recent grants awarded, I quickly discovered I had attached not the changed, edited copy from my conversation with my chair--I had attached a draft with a hearty handful of typos.

Apparently I'm still learning!

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