By the time I got to college, I fancied myself a pretty good writer. I’d been praised in high school enough that once I landed in a college level composition class, I thought getting an A would be a piece of cake. Professor W explained to us on day one that we’d only write one long paper, with several graded drafts. More than anything else, we’d be learning the process of revision!
I didn’t give his words a second thought because my writing never needed much revision. To me, it was simply a matter of editing for misspellings and the like. We wrote several early drafts and he gave us written comments – advice about making them better. I made some minor changes along the way and proudly turned in my final draft copy before the real one was due the following week. In my opinion, I was home free.
In 5 days, Professor W graded those drafts and wrote extensive advice for revision in the margins. Much to my surprise, he gave me a B- on the draft I thought was close to perfect. That grade was something I’d never seen on one of my written essays before. I left his classroom with a stiff upper lip, found the closest women’s room, ducked into a stall and bawled my eyes out.
Reluctantly I made an appointment to see my professor in his office the next day. I didn’t want to hear why the paper was so bad, but worse than that, I didn’t want a B in the class! So I steeled myself, prepared to argue the merits of the work I’d produced, in comparison to what I’d seen in class that had received a better grade. At least that was my plan…
When I arrived, Professor W cleared his desk of other student’s papers, patted the surface and said, “let’s take a look at what you have.” Setting my paper down I wanted to cry, because as far as I was concerned, it was already my best work and “not good enough.” What could I possibly do about it? He leafed through to the comment page and explained what he wanted me to revise. I only half listened and took a couple of random notes. When he finished his assessment, I folded the paper and put it in my backpack. I took a deep breath and whined, “I don’t know if I can do all that, it’s just too hard. I’ve already put a lot of hours in on this draft and I only have until tomorrow. I just don’t know how I’m going to get it done in time!”
Professor W stood and smiled, “Sometimes,” he said,”we just have to do the hard thing.” He opened his office door to let me and my negative thinking out into the hall. Long story made short…I took the essay home, spent three hours revising it per his specifications, turned it in and got an A. Professor W wrote some positive comments on my paper, not about its content, but about the work I’d done in trying to make it better.
Professor W wasn’t ever asking me to do something that wasn’t already in me to do. He knew it, but I didn’t. Facing this challenge was a pivotal moment in my life, one I’ll never forget. It taught me that even our best efforts can be improved upon if we decide we want to take the time for re-vision, if we want to see ourselves and our abilities in a new light, from a different, unfamiliar perspective. And although I’d been raised with a “get it right the first time” attitude, I was learning the world could be a little more forgiving than that.
I found out that second chances are possible and often times celebrated. Not only that, anything we want to make better we can apply the principles of revision to!
Revising our work products, our relationship interactions, or our physical health habits all begin with taking stock of our present circumstances, accepting them as what we’ve learned or mastered SO FAR, then opening our hearts and minds to levels of mastery within us that we don’t yet know about – which we become willing to learn. To revise means to envision again (re-vise); it’s the new perspective that allows positive change to occur. If we see ourselves in the same old light, with the same level of skill or being, long-term change or improvement is not possible. It only works with a new way of thinking about who and what we are and what we can accomplish.
Let me give you these ideas to help:
- Sometimes our egos have to take a hit for our best selves to really shine forth. We tend to get caught up in thinking that the possibility of being better means that our initial efforts weren’t good enough (that we weren’t good enough). But not being perfect at something on our first attempt says nothing about who we are or what we’re capable of. It’s not at all related. Wherever we are is just a launching point for what we can possibly be, do, or have. Get the idea of perfection out of your head and adopt possibility instead. Ask yourself, “what’s possible for me today?” And then ask the same question the next day, and the next…don’t ever stop asking.
- Make your revisions be about becoming more of who you already are. Develop latent capacities and hone the skills you feel drawn to bring forth. Don’t waste any time trying to be, do, or have that which does not inspire you. Get in touch with and understand your passions. Pursue whatever drives you and you’ll gain the momentum you need to sustain you through the challenges we all face on a daily basis. There will be roadblocks and speed bumps along the way and you’ll only keep going toward something you care about. So go ahead and let go of anything else.
- Focus your revision energies and thought patterns on learning, on being a student of life – a student of your own life. Lifelong learning can add a lot of interest and excitement to our days. Once we realize that we don’t have to be perfect in our early attempts, the world gives us a lot of time for experimenting, for making mistakes, and making revisions. We don’t have to fear the learning process or believe that our need for it makes us any less than anyone else: especially not less than those who aren’t even willing to try or do things over.
- Practice patience, but stay on track. Revision takes time. That’s the hardest part about it. We get impatient with ourselves, with where we’re at in life and that makes us want to give up before we ever really know what we’re capable of. We get to twenty-one-years old and think we are the person we were meant to become. Life throws the first curve ball (of many) and we panic at the thought of changing directions or starting over! We wonder what is wrong with us. Well, nothing is wrong; we just think we’re done baking and we’re only still assembling the ingredients! The idea that we are already all we’ll ever be sets us up for a lot of disappointment when our initial efforts don’t produce the results we want. So relax. Get ready for the long haul. It’s your life, so take your time and make it a long one. Make the most of it. Make it a good one!!
Thanks all for reading – Enjoy the start of a New Year and the possibility it brings to you! Embrace the unfolding of your life mystery. You won’t be disappointed!