I recently attended the Edge for Scholars Retreat: Building Collaborations, Creating Connections and learned so much about connecting with others throughout an academic career. Meeting new people at a similar career stage and getting advice from those who have gone before us made for an invigorating and inspiring day.

A piece of advice that was shared during a roundtable discussion really stuck with me: Learn where your B+ work is okay. *Skrrrt* Wait, what? I am an A+ student. A high achiever. A…perfectionist. How could I possibly produce less than THE BEST?

While I am of course exaggerating (kind of), this advice got me thinking about how often my colleagues and I do struggle with perfectionism. Scientists are generally high achievers and producing anything less than our best might feel like failing. However, perfectionism is often a barrier to progress. So, how can we be okay with our B+ work sometimes? Some things to keep in mind:

  1. Perfection is impossible. I know, I know. Everyone knows this. But do you truly believe and accept it? Even if perfection was theoretically possible, would you ever actually believe you reached it? I suspect if your expectations were reached, you would probably just raise your expectations further. Besides, everyone’s definition of perfection is different anyway.
  2. Perfection makes us less relatable. Showing others your flaws takes pressure off of them to feel like they have to be perfect. Especially in mentoring, we owe it to our mentees to show them that we make mistakes, too. This also makes us more approachable and takes away the fear of backlash when our trainees make mistakes. Furthermore, we each have a desire to be loved for who we are. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to constantly wonder if people like the real me or just the “perfect” version of myself I allow others to see.
  3. Perfection blocks growth. Progress and process are just as important as the outcome. Taking risks and trying new things and failing at them is how we learn. Of course, we should strive to do good work, but waiting for it to be perfect before we share it with others can be a huge waste of time. The best example I can think of for this is scientific writing. Don’t wait for your draft to be perfect before you share it with a colleague or mentor for feedback! Involving others early and often can help you develop your skills more quickly and expend less mental and emotional energy you can use toward other things. I promise they won’t think you’re dumb.
  4. Perfection blocks opportunities. Perfectionism often grows out of a desire for control. By trying to control everything, you might take away opportunities from others, blind yourself to alternative ideas and perspectives, or have unrealistic expectations for yourself and those around you. Scientific advancement requires diverse backgrounds, ideas, and skillsets. Letting go of our original “perfect” plan makes way for better plans to arise that we hadn’t yet thought of.

We probably shouldn’t have needed a global pandemic to teach us that disruptions and interruptions are a part of life and that we just can’t control everything, but some of us are slow learners when it comes to perfectionist tendencies (hi there!). It is a process to learn how and when to let things go, but a necessary one. As we begin to learn where our B+ work is okay, we will improve our well-being, time management, and yes, our productivity.

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1 Comment

I have generally found that the work I’m most proud of has the most trouble getting published, and often gets far fewer citations than work I kind of threw out the door. In other words, your perception of your A+ work may be quite a bit different than others’ perceptions of your A+ work…

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