Priorities and Perfectionism

a scholar hard at work

This week I have faced a constant struggle of academics and most everyone else: setting basic priorities and deciding how to spend my limited time.

There are three things that needed to happen this week, the last week of summer. First, I needed to spend time with my kids before they started school and to help with preparations, meet-the-teacher, etc., that comes this time of year. Second, I needed to finish writing a lecture that I will give to the incoming Freshmen on Saturday, titled "Why Are You Here? Life, Learning, and the Liberal Arts." And third, I signed up to participate in Furman's "Paladin Outdoor Program," an orientation experience for incoming students. My group travelled to Asheville to zip-line at Navitat and to Nantahala for a full day of rafting.

I'll spare you the details of my deliberations and skip to the outcome. I ended up missing the first day of the POP program on campus so that I could take my kids to the skatepark and go to meet-the-teacher events. Then, I skipped the second rafting trip at Nantahala to stay at NOC and work on my lecture. (That is me working by the banks of the river in the picture above. I wrote a new conclusion that uses rafting as an analogy. We'll see if it survives after the hyper-oxygenated environment wears off.)

Overall, things worked out. None of the three priorities were completed at a perfectionist level. I was not able to see my kids after their first day of school, though I did get to escort them to class that morning. I was not able to write as much as I needed, but I did work for one afternoon (at the cost of a ducky ride). Even with these compromises, the week was better than if I had skipped the POP trip or missed out on the skatepark. I still have some polishing to do on my lecture for tomorrow, but, hey, it doesn't have to be perfect.

I have realized that you cannot be perfect. There have been many opportunities that I missed because I feared that I would not do well, or because I was too busy trying to be perfect in some other task. For example, in college I skipped a chance to "roadie" for a Pink Floyd gig so that I could study for a Spanish test.

I'm trying not to make that mistake again.