Perfectionism and Homework

Perfectionism

Have you ever stared paralyzed at a blank page/ project/ screen and wondered where to begin?  This is something that has been hitting me a lot lately now that I have started blogging and writing again.  I have been trying to be mindful of when I most notice that this is happening and try to figure out the triggers.  This is incredibly personalized to my experience and thoughts and if it helps you I am grateful however I didn’t write it with that intent.

This post is one of those paralyzing events.  I have started blogging again, mainly because I enjoy the creative process and it is my fuel for life.  I have written a number of pretty off the wall short stories that I have stored on a Google Drive for my eyes only but for some reason sharing your creative works is such an amazing process and so much more fulfilling…and terrifying.  This is part of the reason I get so jazzed about software, you get to sit down with a bunch of smart people and build something great together. The energy that flows between the team during some of those brainstorming sessions is incredible.

So what is terrifying about this post?  I am looking back over the words I have used and am clicking my tongue.  I’ve done this several times since I have started, deleting a bunch of crap, put a bunch more crap back and jumbled things around a bit as well.  I am looking at it with the critical eyes I look at all my work with. To be honest, this post will never be good enough to see the light of the internet in my eyes.  I will post it anyway, and regret and lament over it and eventually end up deleting it years down the road when I’ve reinvented myself again and decide it’s never been worthy of your eyes.

Helping my son with his homework yesterday inspired me to write this post.

Porpoise

Life is Better With Examples

The entire reason for this subheading though was I was looking through my photos for some inspiration on how to move beyond this current sticking point.  I deliberated for about 5 minutes on that subheader. I am not kidding you. I went through the following things:

  • Live is Better With Pictures
  • Life is Better With Emotions
  • I Like Sunrises (it’s 5:30 AM and the sun is just coming up now, beautiful)
  • Life is Better With Dogs (mine passed away last year, missing him)
  • I Am Never Going to Finish This

I’ve since gone back and shuffled things around several times, deleted some crap, added some more crap and voila.  The end result is what you see…unless I’ve edited it again and then, well, it’s still what you see here.

I choose to use a photo below because it’s also easier to point to than the 3 hours I already wasted on perfectionism this morning trying to choose the perfect WordPress theme.  I am still not there.

The photo that inspired all of this anxiety is one I took on a wonderful bike ride with a dear friend and her children (and missing my boy in that adventure), along the trails near Marine Drive in Burnaby:

What is your purpose

We saw a number of landmarks tagged along the trail, this was one of them.  I thought that it fit because when I snapped the photo too quickly, didn’t verify and I clipped some important words out of the message.  It should read:

WHAT I$ YOUR PURPO$E?

DO YOU LOVE YOUR$ELF?

The message itself speaks to me a lot, especially with the dollar signs and that’s probably worth an entire post of emotionally charged words in itself but I’ll save that for another day.  

Regardless of where those words take me when I look at the photo, I see that it is cut off.  The fact that it is cut off is something that I internalize as a personal failure.  I do this often.

Balance

It is easy to get caught up on that, it is easy to just throw up your hands and stop trying or worse yet not even to start.  What I am learning is if you ever want to do anything worthwhile you have to just keep on.  In short, you have to have some balance:

balance

This was another photo we saw along the trail.  It is clearly talking about money and happiness however when I look at it in the context of this post I see it more as trading off between being paralyzed by writing and getting something out on the page.

Homework

How on earth is this all related to homework?  I worked from home yesterday so I could pick my son up after school.  I was also able to take him for lunch, I am grateful that my job gives me the freedom to do this.  

When we settled in at home I told him that I needed to work. He needed to do his daily reading and then homework, he has an assignment due on Friday. He was in charge of the time allocation and he gave each of the tasks 30 minutes.  It was a lot but I know he enjoys reading and I wanted to support that he had chosen the time allocation himself.

The reading went swimmingly, we invested a lot in that early in life and he is an amazing reader and this is a source of pride for him which makes me smile.  Then he moved onto the assignment portion of the time.

Some back story here: he is going most of his work on Google Docs in school.  It was a suggestion I had made to help as he has difficulties writing and I am grateful that the school was able to get this in place.  Although it has also come with some learnings and challenges it has helped to keep track of assignments and papers that were getting misplaced across 3 households. 

He grabbed his laptop from the desk and moved to the couch to start working on the document.  The project was to identify 20 innovations you like, pick the top 5 and write a paragraph about those.  I was not with him that night and had a personal stake in the project as I wanted to get some quality time with him before he went to his other household.  That means that I was also eager for him to get this portion of the work done as well.  The timer started, 30 minutes to go.

I was still working when we approached the end of the 30 minutes block.  It was a productive day and I was very wrapped up in writing my next brilliant (sarcasm alert!) piece of code and not monitoring his progress at all up to this point.  I went over to check on where he was and  I was in eager for both of us to have some concrete accomplishment so we state that we were finished for the day and move onto some father and son bonding time.

There were 2 words typed on the page. I started looking around for reasons for this and my eyes focused on the browser in his taskbar with the title “Minecraft”.  Some serious discussion ensued and in my head, daddy wrecking ball came swinging in, complete with accusations about wasting time rather than working. 

I have this self-perception that I am being an ogre during these times and I beat myself up a lot, other people have joined in.  I’ve talked this over a lot with other parents and family after they’ve observed them and the feedback is that my perception might be worse than the reality of these moments.  Unfortunately, in the past, this self-perception has left me open to criticism that has hurt my son.  I’ve made a conscious decision lately to not let this criticism affect what is best for my son.  The upshot, in this case, is that we had a heated, but a very good, discussion about what had happened.

Porpoise

As we talked through the problem it became apparent that he just didn’t know where to start.  I don’t think he realized that this was the issue however and that’s where parenting comes into play, even if it’s not perfect parenting.  I put my own work on hold (super grateful for my job) and sat down with him to do some course correcting for the project.

First, we did some work to repair our relationship, chocolate almonds work wonders here for my son and they are reasonably healthy™.  At the same time, we moved the project to his desk.  I believe the lounging position was good for thinking, however not very conducive for work.  

Next, I helped him break down the project a bit more.  I normally like him to struggle through this part on his own with less guidance.  I think that it’s valuable and helps with understanding however I felt that he needed the extra guidance today.  After some talk we outlined the following goals:

  • Create 20 bullet points of innovations you like
  • Out of those 20 choose the top 5
  • [stretch] Write paragraphs on the top 5

Combined with the shift to the desk and the chocolate almonds both had a remarkable impact on his progress.  I went back to work and within 10 minutes he had a list of 24 points in the document.  He even came over and wanted to share his last chocolate almond with me which was very endearing.  I urged him to spend some time refining the list and in another 5-10 he had finished culling it and the initial part of the project was completed.  We left the paragraphs for another day.

When he had finished the top 5 list I stopped my work for the day.  We sat down and went over his lists briefly and I pointed out all that he had accomplished.  I believe this is a huge part of doing homework and especially important if they were hard to get started. 

I spent a bit more time trying to get him to look at the big picture, that breaking down the project we had made it so much more achievable.  Although I do think that the “thinking” time helped him put his ideas down very quickly and was not entirely wasted I tried to focus on the fact that breaking down the project is an important part of doing the process and saves time in the long run.

Balance

When the workday was done we sat down to play a video game.  We don’t always play video games, sometimes we sit and play crib, or lego, or even guitar.  Whatever it is I think that the important part is that we are interacting and building, or rebuilding our relationship.  Parenting is also something that I view through the perfectionism lense and the times we spend bonding are the ones that get me over wrecking ball daddy when he shows up.

The game of choice lately has been Spiderman, my son picked it and an avid gamer at work said that it was…umm…amazing.  Okay, I don’t think she actually said ‘amazing’ but she did highly recommend it. We sat down and we took turns at the controller.  My son showcased his mad video game skills while I button mashed with some success. He continued to point this out and offer suggestions and strategies as we worked through the waves of “bad guys”.  Another wonderful day with my favourite guy.

bird house

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