My college boyfriend talked a lot about his favorite physics professor when we were undergrads at the same university. The professor would get sidetracked during his lectures because it took a little longer to get through a topic. Rather than get frustrated or beat himself up for not staying on track with the syllabus, he would tell the class,
“We didn’t get a lot done today, but we will give it hell tomorrow.”
The next class session, he would walk into class relaxed and smiling. He was ready to pick up where he had left off. He also made adjustments that did not comprise the outcomes for the course. It wasn’t perfect, but he got the job done.
When I was writing my dissertation, I had daily word count goals. Some days, I would hit my target. Other days, not so much. I would often beat myself up because I did get done what I had planned. The next day, I would put more pressure on myself to make up for what I didn’t get done the previous day. Needless to say, the excess pressure did not help me make up for the previous day or reach the current day’s goals. Frustration, writer’s block, and guilt would follow.
On one particularly frustrating day of not making the progress I planned, I remembered that quote from my boyfriend’s physics professor. The professor acknowledged that he had not accomplished what he had planned for the lecture for what it was. However, rather than beat himself up, he gave himself positive self-talk that allowed him to show up the next day and complete what he had planned. He didn’t have to be perfect. He was fine with being good enough. I asked myself,
What if I allowed myself to be ok with not meeting my writing goal?
What if I just told myself that I would tell myself that I would give it hell tomorrow?
What if I was ok with not being perfect?
Like many of you, I am a recovering perfectionist. Brene Brown said it best.
Perfectionism is crippling because we become trapped in our inability to give ourselves credit for what we did. Instead, we focus on what we did not do. We become stuck in this loop of not being perfect; therefore, it becomes an indictment of our value. When we return the next day, we are still in that negative thought loop that we can’t pick up where we left off and give it hell because we are still immersed in the negative of what we didn’t do. So we become stuck and beat ourselves up even more.
I believe that having goals while working on your dissertation is not only a good idea but necessary. Setting goals gives a pathway, timeline, and accountability. But goals will not be useful if we cannot let go of perfection and allow for flexibility in the process and compassion for ourselves if we don’t reach our goal. High standards for oneself are admirable, but if nothing short of perfection is required, no one, not even you, will ever achieve them. In a sense, perfectionism is a setup for failure. Accepting that you are good enough is not a sign of failure but a sign of being human.
What if instead of being frustrated with not reaching your goal, you told yourself that you did good enough and you would give it hell tomorrow? What if you let yourself be good enough and celebrate what you have done? Sully Erna, of Godsmack, once said,
"We are all imperfect in some way. That's what makes us perfect."