The Mulan Complex

via mediagirl

No, I don’t have a complex that makes me a compulsive rebel, or a complex that makes me lie in order to defend my family, or a complex that makes me save my country from invading Huns, or a complex that makes hunky war heroes fall in love with me. But I am uncomfortable with my reflection.

Reflection. I wish I could say I love that word, and I mostly do. In its passive form. I love the way the redwoods, their reflections interrupted by floating islands of weeds, are mirrored on the stock pond at the local country club. I love the calm patience in my mother’s reflection while she does my hair when I am at home. I love how my friends and I chuckle and shake our heads at our middle school selves during our reflections on old times.

But there are few things that make me uncomfortable the way active reflection can. My reflection becomes an object of criticism and correction when my concealer brush is in my hand. Team reviews after group projects are always an opportunity to reflect on the performances of my teammates and myself and provide a report on our shortcomings. Active reflection inevitably leads to criticism in some form, even if it is constructive, positive, or helpful.

All it takes is a little bit of context and the word “reflection” becomes an unwieldy beast I am most certain I am unable to conquer. Reflection becomes a long, drawn-out struggle with periodic breaks to complain on Twitter and console myself with chocolate. At one point during a peer review assignment for an engineering project, I realized I would rather sing Honky Tonk Badonkadonk in front of the entirety of Cru (the student ministry I’m a part of on campus). This peer review should have been incredibly easy, especially because my team was a well-oiled machine and I had nothing but good things to say about such amazing teammates. But even positive, constructive criticism makes me squirm.

Criticism in any form elicits in me an immediate defensive response. Criticism is a red flag that something could have been done differently and better, and should have been done differently in order to have been better. As a perfectionist, it takes a Herculean effort to get me to admit that I’ve made a mistake or that I could have done something better on the first try. Usually this dramatic overgeneralization applies more to my personal life than to my academic life. But I still have a hard time with my shortcomings when it comes to academics. I refuse to start a problem set until I know I can solve every part of every question; I simply cannot start typing until I know where I want to go with the piece I’m writing.

My defensive response to criticism, and therefore reflection, made me appreciate a young author Roy Peter Clark describes in his book, Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer. The young author accepts each critique from his writer’s group with an open mind, eager to improve. The evaluation focuses on his flaws, but not in a derogatory fashion. The flaws in his writing become his focus points for improvement.

It’s no secret that the Minor in Writing places as much importance on reflection as it does actually writing. Reflection is built into every project prompt, every blog post, every class discussion. I know that by the time I complete this program, I’ll still be just as uncomfortable with my shortcomings and flaws. But my hope is that I’ll be more comfortable with reflection and that my response to my reflection mirrors the eagerness of Clark’s young author.