Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Throat-clearing.

I'm working up to a post on the perfectionist urge, but my thoughts are too inchoate yet. So I thought I'd float a discussion question: Do you feel like your efforts are animated by a perfectionist drive? I'm especially interested in hearing how this urge relates, if you think it does, to life in academia--and whether that seems a productive or a problematic relationship. I'm still pondering....

8 comments:

Special K said...

Yes. Yes and yes. As it relates to life as a grad student: paralyzing fear of writing papers that profs won't like. Anxiety. Spinning anxiety into positive energy..
Also interesting to me is the relationship between confidence and perfectionism. You are one of my models of confidence. Even when you're not sure.

Dr. Write said...

I think perfectionism is my demon. It haunts me, and so then I do a half-ass job because I've been paralyzed by my perfectionism until the last minute, when I have to do something. This makes no sense and yet I feel it defines me.
I think having a child helped with this, because if I have an hour to write, I have to write, because that's what I've got. So I can be more productive, but I'm not saying what I produce is good.
And I also think I've developed a sort of false confidence to overcompensate for my perfectionism and lack of completion. Which sounds terrible.

Lisa B. said...

I feel that perfectionist tendencies--and their companion, the belief that "everyone" will find out what a total fraud you are--are the main reasons I never could get it together to finish my dissertation. That, and laziness.

neophyte said...

I'm working up to a post on the perfectionist urge, but my thoughts are too inchoate yet.

Ha! Oh, honey...

My peculiar blend is rabid perfectionism and incurable laziness. I will often workworkworkworkwork at a project - be it academic work, housecleaning, a big meal, whathaveyou - and then suddenly tire of it, say "Eff this," and finish it off as quickly and as cursorily as possible. The result is usually irksome, the beauty of my initial vision (sparkling, bone-white countertops) marred by inconsequential but nevertheless ugly details (that tenacious wine stain). I am allowed to get away with this, and my irks are smoothed, by easily placated authorities -- friends who are impressed with the (relative) tidiness of my space, professors who are impressed with the (relative) quality of my papers, and so on.

My perfectionism needs direction and energy, if it's going to start earning its damn keep. For now, it just sets my lazy self up for disappointment after disappointment. Not fun.

And I wonder if perfectionists don't self-select for the academy. Hrmm.

Flavia said...

Yes, absolutely. And for my entire life.

I think I've been getting better at accepting the "good enough," though, at least in some circumstances--and I really think that's related to feeling (relatively) more comfortable with myself as a person and with my abilities. It's about knowing, I guess, when it's okay to relinquish control.

Some of it's having finished the PhD and gotten a job that I like and where I'm supported. . . but some of it may just be getting older, since I see the same thing in my personal life that I do in my professional: I'm much less crazily perfectionistic and controlling of self and self-image (the need to be always funny! and smart! and put-together!) in developing, say, new friendships or other relationships--that period when you want so badly for someone to like & think well of you.

Fretful Porpentine said...

Heh. At one point, during the year and a half when I had almost started my dissertation, my advisor told me I was a perfectionist. To which I thought, but didn't say, "No, it's very nice of you to look at it that way, but actually, I'm just lazy."

Some years later, I have come to the conclusion that although Advisor is indeed a very nice man, he might have been right after all. I may live in a messy apartment and skimp on prepping for classes, but where the written word is concerned, I want to get it right -- the first time.

And no, I don't think it's productive -- mostly, it makes me inclined to write nothing at all, because ideas are always whole and perfect in my head, and the process of setting them down on paper feels like shattering them into a thousand pieces and slowly, painfully, starting to glue them together again.

squadratomagico said...

Hmmm. I'm a perfectionist about certain things. When writing, for example, it's very important to me that I get my mode of expression just right -- the rhythm of the sentences, the sound of the words (even though it's unlikely my academic work would be read aloud), the unfolding of the argument. On the other hand, I am not the type who obsesses over finding every last problem in proofs -- there are several small errors that made it into my book, and they just don't bother me at all.

One thing I enjoy about my circus life is how mediocre a performer I am. I have good ideas and skits and costumes, but I don't perform particularly well. It's enjoyable, however, to have an area of my life where I "allow" myself to not even strive for perfection.

Renaissance Girl said...

Thanks, everyone. I don't think that this issue is exclusive to those of us who haunt the halls of academia, but I do think there's something about academia that attracts folks who have such impulses. Maybe literary studies especially, which is so much about constructing a painstaking and careful case for your ideas (rather than their being evident through some empirical means...)

Sq: I love that you have the Dame Bedlam thing to moderate your academic side. I think that's come to me from being a mom. I'm not one of those totally-put-together, coiffed hair, party-planning, clothes-coordinating, overscheduling stepford moms, but I'm a good mom and I'm fun and my kids love me. I yell at them sometimes and I don't rise at dawn with a song in my heart, but I don't have to get everything "right" with them, because just being with them is right.