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Aim For Completion, Not Perfection

One of the main stumbling blocks of my students has been their desire for perfection. This perfectionist quest usually leads them to procrastination, pulling all-nighters, STRESS, unbelievable amounts of anxiety, and then failure at completing the task. They never finish the project, or they hand it in late. In the real world there are no “late assignments.” There are no “7-day extensions” to help you through.

You must aim for completion, not perfection. Perfection is paralysis.

When I was completing my PhD I suffered from this same disease. I wanted things to be perfect. I wanted my research question to be PERFECT. Until finally someone told me that my PhD wasn’t going to be the end of my journey, it was just a stepping stone to the rest of my life’s work. Total “a-ha” moment.

I realized I didn’t need to solve every woman’s health issue. I didn’t need to figure out the problem with the food industry. I just needed to complete the degree. Then get started on the rest of my life.

I aim to do my best work at all times. Sometimes I fail at that, and I need to JUST GET IT DONE.

I can work hours, upon hours on my lectures, trying to create the perfect balance of pop culture references, short, funny video clips interspersed with relevant sociological material that will keep my students off their phones during the lecture. Sometimes it comes together beautifully, and other times it doesn’t. But I show up every week and give my lecture regardless. I don’t phone it in. I don’t call in sick. And I stopped doing all-nighters.

All-nighters are a sign that:

  • You’re not that organized.
  • Or you have way too much to handle.
  • Or you haven’t prioritized what matters most, and
  • You’re probably spending too much time on low-pay off short-term goals, rather than aligning your daily to-do list with your long-term vision. But I didn’t figure that out until well past my undergraduate days.

While completing my PhD I had a sign above my desk that read “Aim for completion, not perfection. A PhD is better than no PhD, so just GET IT DONE.”