My grandfather had a cabin in the woods that was the family gathering place, and still is, and created a sign with twigs hanging across the porch that said, “This’ll Du”. It became a family saying.  Particularly around the cabin, which had a plumbing system that would make Rube Goldberg proud, a shower that wasn’t quite tall enough, a fireplace that didn’t always work, and a bomb for a BBQ grill.  Seriously.  And you know what, it DID do.  The cabin is a warm place, filled with many generations of memories, and is creating more to come. 

I brought this saying with me into my workplace when I could sense my colleagues, and myself, having a mounting sense of overwhelmedness at what all we needed to do, to accomplish, to produce, to polish, to perform.  The anxiety about performance and judgment about perfection in academia is strong.  We must constantly prove we belong, that we are smart enough, that someone didn’t make a mistake when they hired us, or let us into the program.  We worry constantly whether what we have done is enough, whether we are ready enough, prepared enough, have considered all the literature and evidence, are up-to-date on our reading, will convince the grant reviewers, and on and on.

The thing is, we are enough.  Being here is enough.  Being responsive, questioning, open, curious, humble, and adaptive is more than enough.  Getting a shitty first draft together to respond to is enough to get the conversation and collaboration started.  Putting together your three talking points for the presentation and then really working those is enough (and even better than the 50 slide slidedeck).  Showing up for the meeting and being responsive to what is there can often be enough. 

How do you know when what you have is enough?  The other lesson from my grandfather is that “this’ll do” doesn’t mean some shoddy, half-assed job that you didn’t put thought or effort into.  It means, you actually have thought about this, gave it the best you had given the time, experience, and resources available, and this is the result.  Daddy Bert had deep integrity in everything he did, this is an Edwards trademark.  But this integrity comes from a coherent whole to the way of being and living a life, rather than from the number of hours invested in any one project or decision.  This is the tension that one must hold to truly embrace “This’ll do”.  Does it come from a place of integrity, from a place of the best that you have in the moment for the context?  If yes, then yes.  Is there more you could do?  Of course.  Are there ways you could improve and polish? Always.  Is it good enough?  If you are behind it, then yes it is.

Conversational credit: Bert Edwards, Elise Carey, Malia Fullerton, Bets McNie, and all the colleagues, students and fellows who have patience with me while I practice. 

02/20/2014 3:01pm

Thank you. I am a graduate student at UW in the Molecular and Cellular Biology Program, and I (like many others) constantly struggle with the feeling of "enough." This article hit home so much that I actually started to cry, just knowing I'm not alone and that indeed, it is enough. So thank you.

02/20/2014 3:40pm

This has been one of my biggest challenges in grad school. As an undergrad I was literally grade obsessive. Arguably my 4.0 in engineering helped secure a position in grad school. However that level of perfection is very counterproductive, especially in grad school. Plus the health and relationship consequences are even worse. To get a 90% on a test, for example, took considerable effort. And it was certainly good enough! However it seemed like the effort to ensure a 95% was 10 times greater. That extra few percent to get 99% or 100% seemed like 100 times worse. It just isn't worth it. Once you hit that point of diminishing returns it's time to move on.

11/04/2014 11:36am

Very well put, Kelly. Your assessment of the academic grind is spot on. So often the alternative is either to feel overwhelmed and resentful because of we are expected to do...or else to feel like imposters because we didn't invest 115%. And many of us--myself included--often bounce between these equally absurd and self-destructive alternatives. I appreciate your putting the phenomenon so crisply.


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