“What’s your biggest flaw?”
Generally, this response prompts laughter. I admit, it probably sounds like I’m humble bragging. People think it must be nice. I once thought striving for perfection was a positive idea, too. However, the reality entails standards that can never, will never, and were never meant to be met. When I say, “I’m a perfectionist” I am not saying “I’m perfect”. What I am saying is “I strive for a myth of perfection day in and day out. But when I fall short, I am deeply disappointed with myself.” This striving for perfection is a heavy burden to bear, one that seeps into all areas of my life.
Looking back, it is abundantly clear that this thorn-in-the-flesh has been buried deep in my side since childhood. In school, I made the honor roll quarterly and always qualified for the regional spelling bee and math Olympics. The fall 2021 semester of my sophomore year of college was my first time receiving an A- since 4th grade science. Outside of school, I trained as a competitive dancer, experiencing great joy in mastering every trick I was taught and finding myself placed in the front of every piece. At the time, I basked in the glory of these childhood accomplishments, but I neglected to understand the frame of mind my achievements established over time.
My recent journey as a Writing Coach has made it clear that writing is one more area in which I have striven for the unattainable status of perfection. How could I not? A high school English teacher I had as a freshman and junior took me in as her teacher’s pet, using my timed writing submissions as examples for the class to model after and annotate. English class was just one more area where I held a perfectionist worldview, setting out to achieve and be the best. But secretly, my greatest fear lurked: what if one day, my writing simply wasn’t the best or flawless? This inevitable predicament is the bane of a perfectionist’s existence.
Thankfully, my perfectionism has slowly begun to transition with my journey to become a Writing Coach. After 19 years of perfectionism that leads to disappointment and self-degradation, being enrolled in the training course for new writing coaches at Virginia Tech has been a breath of fresh air. At first, it was confusing to conceptualize the idea that we can celebrate students’ writings that contain flaws—that are imperfect. I was shocked to find that being a coach goes far beyond nailing grammar. I began to understand that my role as a coach entails more than helping people perfect their papers, an approach which would dominate sessions by my standards and do students more harm than good. Instead, I see greater importance in focusing on the client as a person who is learning through their writing process, not just a student with a due date. After all, we are ultimately in the pursuit of education to learn, not submit perfect papers as assignments that will probably never be read again. As I attended Writing Center appointments as a client, I grew accepting of the fact that I would not be all-knowing as a Writing Coach. Even though they did not have all the answers for my writing processes, the Writing Coaches I worked with impacted me and showed me I could do the same as an imperfect, human Writing Coach. In acceptance of the fact that I would not be all-knowing, I found freedom from the self-created weight of leading students to a standard of absolute perfection.
Becoming a coach has been a significant step for me to reframe my perfectionism as what it is: a hindrance. I can affirm that perfectionism is an impossible weight to carry. It is dangerous, too; when we hold ourselves to an unfathomably high standard, we will have those same unrealistic expectations for others as well. These unrealistic expectations would fail to make me the effective, compassionate coach I desire to be. Therefore, as I picture myself as a Writing Coach this semester, I strive to become one who exercises grace. After all, when we are met with grace, we find the inevitable flaws a little more acceptable. By meeting my clients with grace, I hope to truly share my love of creating through writing, rather than finding one more way to cyclically strive for something that doesn’t exist: perfection.
About the Author
Jillie Alexander is a sophomore Writing Coach at Virginia Tech. Born and raised in southwest Florida, she is majoring in Environmental Resources Management with a minor in French for Business. Her on-campus involvements include the College Life in Christ campus ministry and Fusion Dance Team. Along with environmental studies and French, she also has a passion for the arts and international studies.