You know all about perfectionism and why it isn’t equivalent to “striving for excellence” but is actually a psychological problem that seriously hampers your work. (If you don’t read the pieces linked here, and maybe talk to a mental health professional.) But I bet you still think striving for excellence is a good thing. You want to do your best.
I don’t want you to do shoddy work. I don’t want you to be an awful teacher. I don’t want your research to be sloppy. I don’t want your writing to be difficult to follow or lack an argument. But I also want you to drop “best” as a measure of the value of your work.
I spoke about that to members of the Academic Writing Studio not that long ago. Listen to what I have to say here:
Don’t Do Your Best (MP3) (around 20 minutes)Download "Don't Do Your Best" Recording (45 downloads) Download the "Don't Do Your Best" Transcript (32 downloads)
It isn’t easy to let go of this narrative. It is a powerful cultural narrative, and you were rewarded for it for a long time. You do good work. You are a good teacher. You are a good researcher. You are a good writer. (You are probably also a good partner, a good parent, a good friend, a good community member, etc etc) Yes, there will always been things you could improve in all areas of your life. We are all learning new things and getting better at things, and messing up, and apologising, and striving to do better next time. The day you stop doing those things, is the day you die.
The fact that you have more to learn and that there are things you could improve doesn’t mean you are failing or behind or not worthy. Being confident that your work is good enough enables you to relax and enjoy your work. It enables you to get enough rest and to be good at your work AND at being a parent/friend/knitter/chorister/whatever.
Think about it.
I’ve also written a short series on confidence which starts here: Where does confidence come from? Part 1: meaningfulness
The original conversation was inspired by a Facebook post by my friend Simone Grace Seol. She has how published an ebook on this theme. Don’t Do Your Best
Originally sent to the coaching newsletter on 18 January 2019. The MP3 and transcript were also sent with slightly different text to the Academic Writing Studio newsletters in December. Lightly edited for the library.