Motivation and drive to get things done has been on my mind lately. As well as the things that still get in my way. Several things I have run across have spoken to this lately:

  • Biochem Belle (@BiochemBelle) had this  fantastic post about creating ideas, silencing your inner critic for a time, giving yourself space to generate ideas before nixing things in the bud outright (a tendency I certainly have).
  • I also recently subscribed to Annie Murphy Paul’s ‘Brilliant Blog’ and her post about a sense of community being important for learning.
  • Kerry Ann Roquemore‘s series on academic perfectionism. I mentioned this series before even though I’d only read the first of the posts. I read the rest and it speaks to my struggles with perfectionism and how I’ve at least started to take some positive steps towards addressing it.
  • I also just watched ‘I’m Fine, Thanks’, a documentary I was introduced to via, @sarahkpeck’s blog about getting things done and living life well. I had tears in my eyes in recognition during the whole thing. 

All four of these things really resonated with me strongly. Here’s why:

  • Perfectionism also takes on the guise of my inner critic that shoots down dieas before they even fully form and have time to breathe. Or before I even try.
  • Perfectionism is isolating. One thing I’ve been taught again and again is that learning happens best with other people. For feedback, for support, for new ideas and for getting used to a new environment. Perfectionism keeps you on the sidelines. “It’s not the critic who counts….” comes to mind. Perfectionism keeps you out of the arena.
  • One things I’ve lacked as a postdoc is drive. Perfectionism is truly devastating. It’s one reason for my disconnection. It’s also the reason I procrastinate on things; if they’re not going to be perfect, why start? It really is a self-defeating way of thinking. My tendency is to avoid people as an introvert, but they are essential to an effective learning environment.
  • When I watched ‘I’m Fine, Thanks’, it has made me see that I have been defined by a vision that has been defined by others. Namely, grad school, postdoc, then faculty position, then tenure, etc. Oh and a significant other, possibly a family along the way. The straight line to success that doesn’t really exist. I feel stuck & disconnected in my current position. I don’t have a good history with relationships. And I don’t quite have a good idea of what my vision is. I’m starting to question and push that direction, but my feeling right now is that I’m not sure bench research is what I want to be doing forever. The director of the movie decided to make his dream of making a film come true; I like asking and finding answers to questions, but my current setting is not conducive to that.
With this blog, I’m trying to address perfectionism by just writing it pretty loosely and not worrying too much about ‘tight’ writing. And then putting it out into the world and realizing that it’s not fatal. I do strive to be good enough. And coherent. And sometimes clever. 

Perfectionism is deadly. Don’t participate. Get past it. Address the underlying insecurity that drives it. Academics do seem very prone to perfectionism. It will lead into depression and other bad places. If you’re a perfectionist, join me on the road to recovery. 

Author: Ian Street

Ian is a plant scientist and science writer relating stories of plant science and scientists on his blog, The Quiet Branches as well as other outlets. You can find him on Twitter @IHStreet.

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