They Say Admitting It Is the First Step

Hello. My name is Christy and I am a compulsive overachiever.

I figured I might as well just come out and say it. I get rather obsessive when it comes to obtaining something that I really want, and I spend hours preparing for and working towards said goal. In many respects, this is a good thing. It demonstrates my sense of drive and passion and ambition. It shows that I am dedicated and probably wouldn’t be described as lazy (except in regards to playing sports, as has already been discussed in previous blogs). However, the down side is that once my overachieving mode gets kicked into gear, I do not know how to turn it off. It’s as if the ambition lever gets set to high and then the handle breaks, deeming it impossible to move up or down or any other direction, for that matter. It is simply stuck, as am I.

If this all seems utterly ridiculous, I assure you it is not; and furthermore, I present the following story of a moment in time when I tried really hard to slack off—yet failed.

In the fall of 2001, I was taking general education classes at CSULB and knew from the start that it was going to be a grueling semester. My class schedule was loaded with fun-filled courses, such as: American History, Political Science, Beginning Italian, and Physical Science—the one subject I was dreading the most and was quite bitter about having to take. I figured that in high school I had already memorized the Periodic Table of the Elements, dissected a frog, and built a stellar model of a papier-mâché plant cell. What more could a college science class offer? I mean really.

During the first week of classes I sat in my dorm room and anticipated the long hours of memorization that would be required for me to get an ‘A’ in History and Political Science. That went double for Italian class because I would actually be studying abroad in Florence the following semester and wanted to absorb as much of the language as possible. With that thought, my mind shifted to a vision of myself shopping for shoes in an Italian market and using all of the brilliant phrases I would be learning to negotiate a lower price on them. I also saw myself talking to some cute Italian boys at a bar and impressing them with my obvious mastery of their language. (As a side note, I later learned that Italian boys in a bar are actually not that difficult to impress. But that is another story for another time.)

As I was envisioning these things and lamenting the injustice of having to take a Physical Science class that may, horror of all horrors—lower my GPA—it occurred to me that I could sign up to take it as Credit/No Credit. The university had a policy that a certain number of units could be taken as Credit/No Credit, which meant that I wouldn’t receive a grade for the class. As long as I earned seventy percent or above, then I would get credit for the class on my transcripts. If I received anything lower, then I wouldn’t.

It seemed like the perfect solution, so I picked up the form and set out to get it signed by all the proper authorities. I needed a signature from my instructor, one from Enrollment Services, and then one from the department I was majoring in, which was English. When I arrived at the English department, the secretary sent me down the hall to see Dr. Caron. I knocked on the door to his office, introduced myself, and then kindly asked for his signature.

He looked at me skeptically and then glanced at his officemate. “You know,” he said, “I don’t really agree with this whole idea of allowing students to take classes as Credit/No Credit. It’s sort of like deciding from the start that they’re not going to try, or get anything out of the class.”

“Oh, no, that’s not at all what I think or why I want to do this,” I lied.

“Really?” he said. “Then tell me why exactly you want to take this class for credit only.”

I very sweetly relayed the details of my class schedule that semester. I told him about how difficult it would be for me to get by, especially combined with all the hours I worked at my part-time job at In-N-Out. I talked about my GPA and how I didn’t want this one course to negatively affect it.

He again looked at me as thought he wasn’t buying any of it. “What do you think?” he asked, turning to his officemate who was also an English professor.

“I think that part of college is learning how to balance the stresses of life,” his officemate said. “And if it were up to me, I probably wouldn’t sign it.”

This was not at all what I expected. I had to think fast. “But this is an opportunity that the university gives to all students,” I protested. “If they didn’t, then I absolutely would make it work and just plain deal with all the stress, but why should I go through all that if I don’t have to? I’m merely asking to take advantage of a little bit of relief that the university offers me.”

The two exchanged glances, and Dr. Caron sighed. “Alright,” he said, “I’ll sign it under one consideration: you have to agree to take my Survey of American Literature class next semester and you have to get an ‘A.’”

My eyes widened. This was bad. This was really bad.

I stuttered and stammered and told him that I couldn’t because I was going to be studying abroad in Italy next semester, but that I absolutely positively would sign up for his class in a year from now and would most definitely work hard to get an ‘A.’

“Do you believe this kid?” He said. “First she wants to skate through Physical Science, and then she wants to run off to Italy.”

I couldn’t help but smile. I’m always a fan of sarcasm—even when it works to my disadvantage. “It’s not like that,” I told him.

“Here’s your signature,” he said, passing me the form.

He doesn’t think he’s going to ever see me again, I thought. I looked him straight in the eye and said, “I really will take your class, and I really will get an ‘A.’”

And with that I left his office, and didn’t see him again for another six years.

What happened is that Dr. Caron was sent to teach and lead the study abroad semester in London that fall, so at the same time that I was flying back from Europe, he was boarding a plane to the UK. I went to register for his class that semester and found out he wouldn’t be teaching it. Granted, I still took it with another instructor—and yes, I did receive an ‘A’—but the high grade didn’t make up for my lack of vindication in Dr. Caron’s eyes.

For whatever reason, and perhaps it is simply because the English department at Cal State Long Beach is so large, I didn’t get the opportunity to take another class with him until 2007. By then I was a graduate student and had signed up for his seminar on American Literature in the 1950s. It ended up being one of my favorite classes of all time, and the Credit/No Credit debacle seemed to be a part of ancient history for Dr. Caron. When I saw him on the first day of class, he didn’t even recognize me. Throughout the whole semester, I kept wanting to say something to him about that day in his office, but he showed absolutely no sign of remembering it. So I let the whole thing go and carried on as usual. It was probably best that he didn’t remember—even though I did earn my ‘A,’ and in a graduate seminar that culminated in writing an 18-page research paper, no less. I’m just saying.

However, while I may have been right about my character and integrity as a student, Dr. Caron was spot-on about his assessment of whether or not I should sign up for Credit/No Credit. By taking Physical Science that semester and opting not to receive a grade, I actually screwed myself over royally. Do you want to know why? Because I got an ‘A’ in Physical Science—or, at least it would have been an ‘A’ had I not signed up for Credit/No Credit.

After everything I had gone through to get that signature from Dr. Caron, I tried my hardest to slack off and found that I just couldn’t do it. I was working like a mad woman to get ‘A’s in all my other classes, so my body and brain and whole being didn’t know how to do anything else. What, me, not study the night before a test? Me, not turn in homework? I tried doing both of those things, and the guilt overwhelmed me so much that I couldn’t handle it. So I broke down and studied. And completed every single assignment. And ended the course with a ninety-something percent.

Yes, I’m a chronic overachiever; when the ambition lever gets stuck in one position, there simply is no preying it loose.

Currently, the lever is stuck in “I need to find a job in New York” mode, and I am obsessively researching industries and companies and tips and tricks to writing the perfect resume. I want key words; I want pizzazz and glitter and impressive facts, but more than anything, I just want to get called for an interview. I want my cover letter to stand out among the hundreds of other applicants because it shines like a diamond in the rough. So, I’m ceaselessly trying to make all of that happen within the next month.

No pressure.

I’ve been doing nothing short of eating and breathing my job search for the past few weeks, and now I’m beginning to realize that it’s time to take a break. It’s time to let go a bit and stop with the crazy, obsessive, overachieving and simply spend a day at the beach. Yes, that beach—the one that is going to be long gone the second I board the plane to JFK. I’m going to be landing into a concrete jungle and from then on, all my lazy days in the sand will be nothing but a distant memory. I’m finally realizing that I don’t want to spend my last month in Los Angeles in front of a computer screen obsessing over whether or not my cover letter is the best thing any company has ever seen.

So for the next month, I’m going to try and slack off. I’ll let you know how it goes.