UW Graduate School

March 5, 2015

I Am Not Perfect, I Am a Whole Person

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Do any of these sound familiar to you?

My paper has to be perfect, before I submit it to my advisors. They’ll think I’m stupid otherwise.
I can’t lose my train of thought during my presentation.
I have to run the numbers many more times, before I start my report. If I don’t, my labmates will ridicule me.
I need to be on top of everything!

As you complete your work this quarter, we know that perfectionism can be an obstacle to feeling like you’ve done your best. The culture of academia is good at promoting the notion that your work is always under the toughest scrutiny, leaving little room for error or work that may be rough around the edges.

For some, staying up all night to really nail the analysis can provide a tremendous sense of accomplishment. But repeatedly working at this super-productive pace ultimately comes at a cost to your emotional and physical health. For others, setting goals that are impossible to reach may lead to procrastination, avoidance and feeling not good enough.

For those coping with perfectionism, we see you and encourage you to shift your thinking so you can acknowledge yourself as a whole person. Intellectual and professional development are constant processes that require supportive feedback, self-revision and personal growth over time. Four thoughts below may give you something to try differently as you head into these last few weeks of the quarter:

Accept.  Perfectionism reduces you to the sum of what you can and can’t accomplish. The reality is you can’t do it all, and you can’t do it all perfectly. Be concrete and intentional in your goal setting each quarter, so you can do work that is manageable and meaningful to you. Adjust your goals as you go, to know what is really possible to accomplish now, this weekend, or this week.

Invite. Perfectionistic thinking distorts the way you perceive the quality of your work and can contribute to isolation. Instead of feeling like you have to buckle down and work harder, make time to ask peers, faculty advisors, and colleagues for help in clarifying ideas for that seminar paper or presentation. Framing something as a “work-in-progress” can take some pressure off. Knowledge production is a process, not a product. Nobody just “gets there” from sheer self-determination.

Ground.  Perfectionism can perpetuate obsessive thinking on school or work related projects. Intentionally spend time with friends, family, and community who know that you are more than just a graduate or professional student. Your community can help remind you that you are a partner, sibling, parent, friend, artist, dancer, gamer, hiker… the list goes on and on.

Enough.  Accepting “this is enough” means that you have done the best you could given the time, experience, and resources available, and it is time to be done. It also means you are enough, just as you are.

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