I’m a good girl, I am

I’ve never liked getting in trouble. Making mistakes, being told off. My first memory of school is (accidentally) breaking my ruler in Form 2 and being told to stand on my chair for the rest of the class. The next time I was told to stand on my chair was three years later when I got 100% on my French test. There’s a fine line between punishment and reward, as it turns out…

While going through my old exercise books, I’ve been struck by the message that was coming through from my teachers. Innocent enough perhaps but with lasting effects that don’t necessarily serve you well in a world where risk taking, entrepreneurship, and creativity can take you further than keeping your head down and working sensibly…

Good girl, Anna

Good girl

Pleasing work

I am pleased

The desire (need?) to be a “good girl”, to please my teachers, to not disappoint, is deeply rooted in my DNA. That’s not to say I’ve never been naughty (shh!) but I’ve always had that deep fear of getting caught. Fundamentally, I still seek approval. I want that gold star, confirmation that I’ve done the right thing, the “good girl, Anna”.

Life can be pretty stressful when you’re constantly looking for outside approval, relying on others to build your self-esteem. At some point, you need to have the confidence to say: I know this is right, I’ve done my best, I’ve done a good job.

Be careful!

A most careful piece of work

Good sensible work

A bit far-fetched

To achieve that “good girl” stamp of approval, you must always be careful. Sensible. Follow the instructions, do as you’re told, don’t be too creative.

But sometimes it’s good to be a bit silly. A bit far-fetched. Here’s to the crazy ones and all that…

Get it right the first time

Too many crossings out

No tippex

Think before your write

You mustn’t cross out! No mistakes! Think before you write!

Yes, thinking before you write, or act, seems to be quite sound advice. But too much thinking and planning can be paralysing. Sometimes you need to try, and fail. Remember that quote about Edison finding 10,000 ways that won’t work? Mistakes can be good, as long as we learn from them.

Keep it tidy

Then I will mark it

Use a ruler

Cut round the edge

Getting all the answers right is simply not good enough. You must be neat. Underline once only. Where is your pen? Use pencil for maths. Use a ruler to cross out…

Ai ai ai. If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign? There must be space for creativity, for drawing outside the lines, for adding a bit of colour.

You must live up to our expectations

Not up to your usual standard

Not your best work

The standard I expect from you

While it may be flattering that teachers expect good things from you, it’s hardly helpful. If you succeed, well, that’s to be expected. If you fail, you’ve disappointed. That’s a pretty unbalanced equation and all you can do is keep running to try to keep up.

Setting your expectations high can be inspiring, pushing you to achieve more than you ever thought was possible – shoot for the stars and at least you’ll land in the treetops… But if you do land in the stars, then you’d better recognise that that’s pretty damn amazing. And if you land in the treetops, that’s pretty amazing too.


Do any of these ring a bell for you? How do you think the teacher’s treatment of you and your work affects you still today? Are you held back by the Good Girl Syndrome? I’d love to hear about your experiences…

Good girl

Good girl

Good girl

Good girl

Good girl

Good girl

Good girl

Good girl

Good girl

Good girl

Good girl

Good girl

Good girl

Good girl

Good girl

Good girl

Good girl


Good girl

Good girl


Good girl


2 Responses

  1. GOOD GIRL … indeed.

    I always enjoy your notes … they are up to (even above) expectations…. clean, neat, well typed… they all deserve multiple stars … maybe I should say your teachers contributed to this … but the real merit/credit goes to you… indeed.

    … I also realize and sympathize with your concern of making mistakes …

    Human being is beautiful because never stops learning … you have a new learning here … now it is up to you to digest and start making mistakes … and keep learning … but remember “errare humanum est, perseverare autem diabolicum” …

    you’re great! 🙂

    PS: I had similar teachers … but cannot stop making mistakes … I wish I could 😉

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