Embarrassment and procrastination

All throughout middle school and high school, I was the biggest procrastinator known to man. I remedied it in college and typically had assignments done at least a week in advance. But this post isn’t about the wise version of myself.

Oh, no. It’s about my most embarrassing moment, which happened as a direct result of procrastination.

My 8thgrade English teacher was, and still is, an amazing teacher. She helped lay the foundation for my writing skills. But man, all of us thought she was the toughest teacher in existence.

She had incredibly high expectations, and all of her assignments challenged us to the extreme. We signed up for it, though; we were all in her Pre-AP class by choice.

This teacher did not simply assign writing exercises, she also loved pushing us with ventures centered on public speaking.

In one such assignment, we were supposed to write our own tall tale, memorize it, and then speak it to the rest of the class. I flat out did not do it. I did not even premeditate any sort of story.

The day of the assignment came, and I watched as most of my classmates nailed their respective tall tales. I do not remember how my teacher determined the order of our presentations, but I dreaded my name being called.

Much too soon it was my turn.

I got up in front of the class and was completely mortified. I have never been a great extemporaneous speaker, and that’s the situation I forced myself into by not doing the assignment as instructed.

I’m painfully shy and speaking in public is psychologically demanding. I didn’t have enough foresight to realize that most of my anxiety could have been allayed if I’d spent any time at all meditating on a story.

I went up there cold turkey, and I panicked. All those eyes were watching me. Expecting me to come up with something brilliant.

My first course of action was attempting to melt into the wall behind me. I wanted to get as far away from all those eyes; all that attention.

Since the wall failed to swallow me, I knew I had to start talking. When I’m the center of attention, the connection between my tongue and brain is completely severed. They cannot even work independently of each other.

Finally, I somehow managed to spit something out about Tornadoes and inclement weather. Mind you, every other word was probably preceded by several “Umm….uh….ummms.”

I don’t remember anything but the abject embarrassment. I don’t know how long I was up there before my teacher put me out of my misery.

To this day, I do not think I have ever been so overwhelmingly embarrassed. I’ve repressed most of that traumatizing failure.

The sad thing is, I didn’t learn from that mistake, and it was repeated, though with a different result, in high school.

My junior year of high school, I took dual credit English. This teacher was also particularly tough, and her assignments were creative to the point of cruelty.

We had huge assignments due at the end of every nine weeks. She gave us our assignments within the first week of the new nine weeks. The assignments invariably entailed reading a book (duh), but her assignments were not as simple as book reports.

No, we had to use a plethora of skills to complete her assignments. I procrastinated on every single one of them; however, there was only one book I flat-out did not read.

Our first assignment was to read a book and then create a Myspace page for one of the characters. After we created the Myspace page, we had to present it and explain the character to our classmates.

Being a reclusive, asocial person, I never even considered creating a Myspace page for myself.

I was at a complete loss for what to do. Instead of reading the book and figuring out the Myspace thing as I went, I didn’t think about doing either until a few days before it was due.

I obviously didn’t have time to read the book, so I had to skim. I think I might have also used Spark Notes.

By some stroke of subconscious sagacity, I chose the book Catch-22. Sagacious because the whole book is predicated on mental illnesses—granted, I was unaware of my own mental illness, hence the subconscious aspect.

I threw something together the night before, staying up all night. Turns out only so many people had time to present on the actual due date, so I had a brief reprieve from presenting mine. I stayed up late the next night as well. I probably got three or four hours of sleep two nights in a row.

Ironically, I am almost certain that helped rather than hindered me.

I have since read Catch-22, partly because it’s a classic—for some reason—and also because I felt I needed to do penance to the English Assignment gods.

What’s the best way to explain a book that doesn’t make any sense? Turns out, my teacher thought the answer was talking in circles and not making any sense.

I feel certain my presentation would have flopped with my teacher if I’d chosen any other book. In hindsight, I was likely on the precipice of full-blown mania that day. Hanging onto sanity by the grace of God.

Sure enough, I got my grade back, and she gave me a 95.

She did not do me any favors. I bought into the lie that I do my best work under inordinate amounts of pressure.

I did slightly modify my approach to her assignments by reading the rest of the books for which I had to do projects, but I still waited until the last minute to do said projects.

I finally got my head screwed on straight during my senior year of high school, and I subsequently rejected the idea of pressure producing adequate work.

I made my life much easier in college by completing assignments at least a week in advance. If I desired, I had plenty of time for my mom to proofread all of lengthy research papers, and I was able to proofread them myself several times. I would write, proofread, sit on it for a few days, and then proofread again, making these writing assignments much more substantial and honed than anything I wrote in high school.

I never received below an A on any writing assignments in college, and I think that’s largely due to my refusal to procrastinate.

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