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Sarah M Brown, PhD
over 2 years ago
In reality, for me, these two are basically the same. I get caught in ruts where I just want to get things right, from teh start, and I'm not willing to just make the mistakes and move on. Iknow that 's not he best habit, but it's also not sensible to jsut start wihtout htinking. And then the parallysis hits. Then it evolves into procrastination. It started wiht good intetnions though. This has been a long battle for me. It's complicated. I've always had a complicated relationship with perfectionsim. It's unclear the role it hsould play in my life. I got through phases without enough of it or I have it in all the wrong ways and not in the useful ways. I stall and hold and try to perfect the things that I culd fix on my own and aim to get help on things that I should've just fixed on myown. When things were easy for me, this wasn't a problem. More important and, really, precisely, when I had nice neat rules to play by, I did well. All the way though my qualifying exam. Everything was easy in the sens that it was straight forward. It was simple to do - it had a clear path to an and. there was a goal. There were well defined criteria to meet, even fo rfairly open-neded opriejcts there were rubrics. For fellowships and admissions applications there were criteria. I had guildeines nd I'm really good at playing by rules, following them, bending where I need, but meeting criteria, even in creative, nonstandard ways soemtimes, but meeting criteria and even pretty good at assessing for myself what is 'good enough;' knowing when to stop. Sometimes I make one more pass before a deadline, but I stop and take a break and move on and don't cram up until the last minute. Or at least I didn't.
However, I've always known that I did my best work, the most ccreative, the most exciting, the part that earned the most praise and that gave me the most joy, at the beginning of a project. A deadline is good for agreeing to good enough, a deadline is goosd for sorting out final details, it's good motivation for things like final spell checkign and agreeing that a given detail is apassable and to stop adding to it. It's not good, however, for doing the part of the work that is exciting. I've wanted for years to let my work feel the wy doing craft projects does. I just start, and i dont know where it's going to end. I work and think and do what I want to do and then I show someone when i Like it. or when i'm not sure if I like it, but i think someone else might.
Now, I've finally got hta tin my work, mostly, but I dont know how to stop. IN researh ther are so few boundaries. In crafts, there are more constraints. It's tnagible, diminishing returns is more visible, a specific project has soem sort of natural end. Research doesn't have that as clearly. At least for me, it just leads to another question and another question. Writing is also like that sometimes. there's always a different way it could go, it could always be better, maybe I don't know what it is supposed to be for. Mayb eit's jsut fo rmysel , maybe I dont actually want o share this. Writing for the internet is scary. Will someone who considers hiriing me in the future think that this is ok? Is it too off topic and unprofessional? How do I figure that out. I ant to writ in a context that is for and related t omy work, but also persoal enough to feel sincere. So I struggle.
I start posts and don't post them. The number of drafts on my blog as of writing the ffirst draft of this is unimaginable. Even this very text. I'm writing this on july 3rd 2017. I don't expect anyone will be reading in in less than a year. I want to share, but I want to be in a more comfrotable position with a bit more job security before I share. Morelikely alittle over two years before I share this broadly. I'm writing comfortabley because i Hav eapl an tos hrea, and that I knwo thti s will go over. I think over andover in a cirlce. It's a hard spiral to fight.
But, I'm fighting. I've started in the past reading about being a prolific academic writer. It discusses how to fight perfectionism and learning bout where good enough lies. I have heard about finding good enough in workshops, espeically around teaching, but fo rme it's around research. Since that's the most importnat thing, i have so much trouble calling something good enough. I sit on material I struggle to even cahgne course dn to get the access that i need. I struggle to ask for help because i'm afraid that I might not be seen as worhty. Imposter syndrome amplifies perfectionism to strengthen and reinforce procrastination. To fuel procrasitination. Really, even writing this section, at the time that I'm writing it is a bit of procrastination. I'm writing this in the middle of my work day, instead of working on reserach, writing things I need to be writing or revieiwing scholarship applications, or finalizing the next step. I'm blocking mysel fout of holidays and fun, to bury myself in the work that I've created through procrastination.
This morning I was thinking about how to organize tools and templates that I will want my future students who work in my lab to have to structure thier code. Not on working through my own work. I need to stya focused.
I started learnign to identify my distractions, my procrastination zombies, finding my body guard ther eare so many analogies about how to wkr thorugh this. I jsut do not know which version will work best this is really really hard. jUnderstanding the source and drive of your own special variety of procrastination is the only way to get through it. It will require self reflection and thinking and probably learning about how several othee people combat it. There were a lot that IJ learned about and failed at trying. THinking abou thtem i ndifferent ways. Trying to admit tht's what it is. THe lessons form a mind fo rnumbers. Sometimes, when I'm most stuck, I reread some of the techniques that resonated with me. I often implement them in my own life with some modification, adapting to tools that I Like, or fitting them in between other habits that I have found successful for me. Or adapting htem because I work alittle bit differnt type of content. For example, strategies that work for some peopel workign in social sicenc eor humanities around writing will not always be the best or m ost practical for me, since i'm so much more comfortable with a computer and writing a bit of code and even my won writing can include code. I jsut need to think aht through and prepare it more neatly.
This excercie is workinng out to feel really good, but pushing through by more than double the word count every day is hard. This is pushignmy mind to new depths. I had been barely scratching the surface on ideas for a while writing about them to a superficial level and then reearing mhyself ove rand over and deeper and deeper down the rapbit hole.
Perfectionism is crippling. I know that i will, I have to, mfind a way to work around it. And I am going to make progress towards in continually. It will be something that I have to work on for a long time and I'm afraid to admit. I wore prefectionism as a badg eof honor. It was a thing that people talk about so highly, s if perfetionisms is the only way to be good at things, but relaly productivity is good. Completinng tasks, producing content and producing output is th eonly way. m I have this problem so bad that it's been over two years isnce I started writing a blog post about how I was leaving it behind and I never posted it. It took me two years to get over th eperfectionism about a post saying I was over perfectionism, becuase I was afraid that I wouldn't be totally don with the habit and that i would fall back to it and that if I wasn't wildly productive after that, I would then be revaling myself as a fruad, I have a perfectionism problem about not being a prefectionist. Being excellent at something isn't about being perfect it's about being great, and people ahve to see that to know you're great. Perfect isn't attainable, but high standards of excellence are.
It's a tough place to be in, being a perfectionist determined to do better and leave that behind. Moving to the bay area reinforced it to me. This area isn't like my old new england chram and hardworkinng blue collar life that I grew up deeply ingrained in as the culturre. Though my mother has worked as an engineer most of my life and my dad as worked in software settings since middle school,I still felt that ingrained in the culture of the town. I grew up in a mill town. Get some thing right and to it well. Scale it once it's working. Measure twice, cut once. That's what I have been taught since I was a child, whetherr it was watching my dad literally at a workbench with a saw doign some home improvement project or my grandmother advising me through craft projects her arthritis no longer allowed her to participate in directly, it was always to plan first. Being less than perfect was always fine, but actual failure wasn't. There was a range of apssable that was ok. Be careful with resources though. That's what I learned. The bay area has fail fast and move on deeply ingrained in the culture. Never measure, just cut spend more money if you have to, being first to complete is all that matters. First to market that is. Sustainability? Only in energy, not in much else. IFast is the best way to use minimal resources, right?
This exterem shift probably wasn't good for me. Being surrounded by a culture of carelessness, that's called calculated gambling is a little crazy. It's like being in the mind of a gambling addict- this is getting out of hand and it feels like it's all about to crumble, just like the state's civil infrastrucutre, highways, bridges, dams, gnerally ahving water. Space for peopel to live. All of it is crumbling and could've been fixed by a little more planning. Boston, where I lived before just had rents drop, not stay steady, but drop by a few percent due to planning and investment. Getting more people in, at less per person to be sustainable and actually improve quality of life, not jsut gamble and make a few (the house) ever richer.
My extreme aversion to perfectionism and procrastination isn't probably right either. LIke in most htings, some about of balance is probably ideal. Optima are usually central on some measure. Extremes are unattaible. Multiple criteria, weight them together an then a central-ishm optimum appears. I need to find the right balance that gives me the output rate tht can sustain a career and steady necessary promotions, and still keep me proud of the work that iA do. Kepp me prodcuing work I can be confident in and that is mipressive. To find that work will be the right hting and it's nontrivial. I am working on it though. That's the fight I'm fighting to escape perfectionism. You'll need to name yours to fight it too. Here are some more bits of insight fomr the variious reading that i didn and the acutall readings themselves which I highly recommend for finding nd naming your fiht and understanding why you get stuck or disctracted or disinterested or chang y our menind nd what you can god to leave tht behin and keep chuggin and taking things to completeion.
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