The Academic Imperfectionist
The Academic Imperfectionist
About The Academic Imperfectionist
The Academic Imperfectionist combines philosophical analysis and coaching insights to help you dump perfectionism and flourish on your own terms. Your host is Dr Rebecca Roache, a coach and Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of London.
It's bad enough that you're nowhere near as productive as you ought to be (according to you) - but, to make things worse, you can't ever get any help with this problem, because that would involve fessing up to the shameful truth that you are a terrible human being who doesn't work as hard as they ought to work and therefore deserves to be shunned from civilised society forever. Is there any way out of this hellish situation without revealing your villainous nature? Don't worry, friend. You're in safe, non-judgmental hands. The Academic Imperfectionist is here to help you understand and overcome that shame you're dealing with.
Your weakness of will is one of your inner critic's favourite topics. She can go on for days about how weak-willed you are. But, did you know that, over the centuries, philosophers have had a tough time making any coherent sense of the idea of weakness of will - and that, according to some philosophical heavy-hitters like Socrates and R. M. Hare, there is no such thing? You don't hit the snooze button or use your writing time to watch cat videos because you're weak, on this view. You do it because your values are glitching. And framing it this way opens the door to finding solutions that don't involve piling shame and guilt on yourself.
That positive change you need to make, which you're not making. It's because of your perfectionist anxieties, right? It's because of the intimidating hugeness of the task, because of your lack of confidence in your abilities to deal with problems along the way, because of your daddy issues and your need to maintain a work-life balance and your conscientious reluctance to commit to something you might not see through. Sorry, pal, but that's all bollocks. Your amazing brain, which is the very reason you shine like the brilliant star you are, is tying you up in overthinking knots here. Stop wringing your hands and STFU for a second. Just make a start, and see (a lot of) your problems melt away.
Sometimes, there is such a massive gap between how things are now and how we'd like them to be that there's no point even trying to make changes because any change we make would be so insignificant in the grand scheme of things that it's too depressing even to think about. Better just to ignore the problem, because who has the energy for that shit, right? But also: how the hell are you going to get anywhere with this attitude? Glad you asked, because there is a way. You don't have to give up on your big goals, and your efforts to reach them aren't doomed to insignificance either. You just need to change the way you think about them. It's painless, I promise.
We all know to expect less of people who are dealing with something difficult like bereavement or job loss or a divorce. But what about when something great happens to us? What if we can't focus because we've just landed the job of our dreams and we're ecstatic about it? Truth bomb, friends: you might not feel entitled to take it easy when everything is going well, but happiness can make it just as hard to focus as misery. The 'Optimize your workspace' episode of the Huberman Lab podcast mentioned in this episode is here.
Are you supportive and compassionate and generally nice to yourself on those days when you've disappointed yourself? So many of us aren't. We have no idea whether it's even possible. We tell ourselves that either we're flawlessly successful or we're embarrassing failures, and since none of us is flawlessly successful, we all spend far too much time beating ourselves up for being embarrassing failures, which is an incredible waste because there's actually a lot of space between success and failure, and it's where we all hang out pretty much all the time. What if you could inhabit this space comfortably, and work towards your goals imperfectly and fearlessly? Wouldn't you get more out of yourself if you could do that instead of that 'I'm a failure' thing you usually do? Snuggle up and listen, and your imperfect friend here will tell you how.
You've had 50 episodes of this podcast so far (well, 51 including this one). That's 50 bits of advice for you to absorb, think about, and implement to make yourself feel better about stuff. We've looked at what to do about procrastination, how to feel less anxious about productivity, how to deal with impostor syndrome, FOMO, your inner critic, goalpost-moving, and more. Does all this advice leave you wondering, 'Where do I even start?!'? Do you beat yourself up about not managing to implement it all, and how to fit implementing it around all those other wholesome things you're supposed to be doing like exercising and getting enough sleep? Don't worry, friend - you're 100% off the hook. Here's the low-down on how to embrace imperfectionism about looking after yourself. Reference: Duhigg, C. 2012: The Power of Habit (Random House).
Have you noticed how much time your inner critic spends looking over your shoulder and telling you how you're doing everything wrong? No, I bet you haven't - instead you're just completely mystified about why you've grown to dread your writing or your reading or your teaching or whatever else it is that you used to enjoy but now don't. It's not doing the thing that's the problem here. It's what you're telling yourself about how you're doing the thing.
You know, in theory, that you have too much on your plate and that you really should stop taking on even more - but, seriously, have you seen how great this new opportunity is? It's a once in a lifetime thing! There's no way anyone could turn it down! Friend, you need to end your FOMO before it ends you. The good news is that it's easy to do - you just need to reframe your choices a little. You need to think about not just what you'll miss out on if you don't take this opportunity, but also what you'll miss out on if you do. Hit the download button and gather round. Here's the core values exercise mentioned in the episode.
Do you end every day feeling guilty and ashamed because you haven't done enough? It wouldn't have killed you to send just one more email, or spend just 30 more minutes on your writing, right? Well, sure, you could go flat out. But you wouldn't last long if you did. You need to pace yourself, which means you definitely shouldn't be dialling the effort up to 11 on a daily basis. Your mistake is expecting yourself to sprint for the whole marathon - and that's just bonkers. Crack out the headphones and let your imperfect friend here talk some sense into you.
Do you view your life as a narrative? If you do, you might be holding yourself back in ways you don't even realise. From seeing failures where there aren't any, to restricting your choices to those that fit the story, unhelpful views about what shape a successful life should take are happiness-deleting distractions from what's really important. Join your imperfect friend for the lowdown on how you can change the narrative to one that fits you better - or even reject the life-is-a-story thing altogether. References: Setiya, K. 2022: Life Is Hard: How Philosophy Can Help Us Find Our Way (Penguin). Strawson, G. 2015: 'I am not a story', Aeon (https://aeon.co/essays/let-s-ditch-the-dangerous-idea-that-life-is-a-story)
I've been on more job interview panels over the years than I can remember. I've developed my own insights about what makes for a successful interview, and I've talked to my fellow (often much more experienced) interviewers about their views too. This all comes in helpful when I'm coaching clients who are preparing for an interview - but finally, here I am, offering up the highlights for you to listen to through the comfort of your own headphones! Grab an emotional-support-cuppa and join The Academic Imperfectionist for a job interview masterclass.
You know you're supposed to be consistent with your writing routine. But how do you manage this, when so much of what goes into writing is so vague and unquantifiable? How do you factor in things like thinking time and discussing time and skim reading the intros of articles you won't end up using? Here's your imperfect friend to help you out. Consistency, believe it or not, looks nothing like you think it looks like. It doesn't involve willpowering through the hard days. It doesn't mean doing the same thing every day. Sometimes it means jacking in the writing and taking a break. Your passport to progress doesn't need to involve blood, sweat, and tears. Gather round the virtual campfire and all will become clear.
Right, that's it - your imperfect friend here can't keep quiet about this any more. This idea of 'quiet quitting' that you've been reading about is bullshit, OK? There we all were, minding our own business and struggling with our usual productivity-related guilt and the idea of a healthy work-life balance, and then along came an avalanche of media articles telling us that unless we're going the extra mile in our jobs (read: doing work for free), we're 'quitting'. It's a perfect storm for mental health. Shut that laptop and join The Academic Imperfectionist for a pep talk about why good enough is good enough. Here's Zaid Khan's TikTok video that started it all off. References: Krueger, A. 2022: 'Who Is Quiet Quitting For?', The New York Times, 23rd August. Kudhail, P. 2022: 'Quiet quitting: The workplace trend taking over TikTok', BBC News, 1st September.
Do you think that finding out how you're feeling is simply a matter of turning your attention inward? Oh, mate. You're so wrong. Often, we only ever reflect on how we're feeling when we're feeling bad - and when we do reflect on it, we're not genuinely interested in finding out how we feel. Instead, we're standing by ready to pounce on ourselves with nasty judgments if we dare acknowledge that we don't feel that great. We only allow ourselves two possible states: we're either fine, or we're a pathetic snowflake making a big fuss about nothing. Being able to tune in to how you feel isn't a skill that you can take for granted. You need to practise it. Here's what to do.
Have you ever said something like, 'If I don't get promoted this year, I'll feel justified in quitting this job', or 'If my partner cheats on me again, I'll feel justified in ending this relationship'? If so, you're guilty of waiting for permission: waiting for something to happen so that you'll feel justified to do the thing you want to do anyway. It's a way of wasting your own time, holding yourself back, standing in your own way. You don't need permission. The fact that you want to do the thing is all the justification you need. Join your old imperfect friend for a look at what's going on with us when we wait for permission, and how we can move past it. Here's Mel Robbins' TED Talk, How To Stop Screwing Yourself Over.
Do you listen to podcasts like this one and think: But this advice is for people who are much nicer than me, who deserve success; it's not for me, who secretly hopes that their more successful colleague steps on a rake at their earliest convenience? Do you simmer with resentment even while you're doing the heart-reaction-thing on your friend's Facebook post about her new job? Is envy your dirty little secret, and yours alone? This episode is for you. References: Protasi, S. 2018: 'Love your frenemy', Aeon. Protasi, S. 2022: 'Beyond envy's dark side', IAI.
I started writing my book, on the philosophy of swearing, in 2015. The original deadline from the publisher was December 2016. I finally submitted it in June 2022, 5-and-a-half years late. Gather round the virtual campfire, friends, and I'll share with you why it took me so long (spoiler: it wasn't because I am lazy, worthless human being) and how I finally got it done (spoiler: it wasn't by being mean to myself). Here's a link to the Goal Contract mentioned in the episode.
Everything's a judgment with your inner critic, isn't it? It's never 'I'm having trouble focusing today'; instead, it's 'I'm lazy'. And it's never 'I'm prioritising my own goals this morning'; it's 'I'm selfish'. Has it ever occurred to you that not every unhelpful character trait, choice, or behaviour is a moral flaw? You probably haven't noticed this, but your inner critic likes to sneak moral judgment into everything she says to you. Not only is that hurtful, but it also holds you back by distracting you from thinking strategically about how to work towards your goals. The Academic Imperfectionist is here to neutralise that shit and help you cut through the judgment and get to where you want to be.
You're totally on board in theory with the idea of being kinder to yourself - it's just that your self-criticism helps you succeed, right? And while you recognise that overwork is a problem, you can't make time for rest, because then you'd fall behind, wouldn't you? Friend, don't take this the wrong way, but you have no idea what you're on about. The habits and thoughts that you think are helping you aren't doing that at all. They're making you miserable. You need to get rid of them - it's just that it's so hard to think clearly about them and what's wrong with them, and decide what to do instead. Your Academic Imperfectionist godmother is going Freudian in this episode - we're going to whip your unconscious into shape.
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