We are told, from an exceptionally young age, that the only way to succeed in life is to have high standards.
That is to say, everything must be completed, at all times, to the very best of your ability.
I was something of a late comer to this mentality. My time at school was anything but a showcase for high standards – it took me three attempts to get a Maths GCSE. Three. My mate Dave Wind got a B first time and he once, for a dare, ate a tea-bag, an unused tampon and a spider. I was objectively less academically advanced than someone who had, for no other reason that we told him to, eaten a female sanitary product and an arachnid. I’m unsure if the spider was alive when he ate it but there was talk of the wriggling triggering his gag reflex. At least, that was the excuse Dave gave after vomiting up an expanded wad of cotton that now looked like a rabbit’s right foot after it had fallen through a threshing machine located above a slurry pit.
My A Levels were a mixed bag, earning money at a part time job and then spending it in a pub were far more exciting. My first year or so at uni was so-so.
Slowly, I came to realise that if I wanted to be something I had to step up.
And step up I did. Like a Plymouth Brethren who has just left home and discovered late-night TV and wanking, I went mad for it. My mantra was “good enough is not good enough”.
This culminated in me training to be a teacher, working every hour I could and being utterly devastated when I was told I was less than excellent.
In my second year as a teacher I once spent a good forty minutes sobbing in my classroom because I was told by an Ofsted inspector that my lesson was ‘barely satisfactory with some cause for concern’. I’d pinned so much of my identity on being the best, most inspirational, hardest working teacher I could be that when someone presented me with an image of myself that wasn’t all of those things, plus a pat on the back, I literally crumpled, ignoring in a flash the previous eighteen months of largely positive feedback.
It’s relatively easy to approach something with a single-minded focus in your early twenties. You just work at it. All the time. At the expense of everything else.
Maintaining these high standards becomes harder as age kicks in and life becomes more complex. The problem is, the expectations of one’s self don’t go away. You just end up feeling like everything is a little bit less good than you want it to be.
I’ve been pretty tied up at work recently and have had a run of Saturdays in school. When I’ve been home, I’ve been tired and therefore grumpy. My temper shorter than by rights it should be with the kids – it isn’t their fault.
The other night my eldest son burst into tears as I put him in bed and crying the full throated wail of the under-5s, wrapped his arms around my neck and spluttered between sobs “I miss you daddy.”
If you ever want a kick in the squidgy parts, those four words will do it.
I wish I was in a position where I could take a step back from things at work but I’m not. A lot of young people rely on me to do my job and we are dependant on my salary. Many people are in the same boat and will no doubt sympathise. What’s more, I really like being a teacher – I still derive immense fulfilment from helping young people become something more than they ever thought they could be.
I wish my kids understood this; they understandably don’t. They are three and four respectively and just miss their dad who, when he finally gets home, is less silly monster and more actual monster.
Those expectations, can currently be a high as they like, they aren’t being reached. Not even close. Indeed, if I was to grade current achievements against them I would probably conclude that it’s all pretty much ‘barely satisfactory with some cause for concern’.
I guess that’s good enough.