Monthly Archives: June 2010

Perfectionist


Three-year is going to pass since I have started PhD at U. of Colorado. Here I am sitting on my desk preparing for presentation before our group – the first meaningful presentation where I will present data for two prospective publications. I have done the work in last three months. I am hoping to finish my work for another 3 publications by October, 2010.

So much in last 3 months, yet nothing in last 3 years. I could have given my usual excuses including, but not limited to recovering negative emotional impact of quitting PhD at U. of Hawaii, some personal problems, spending time to build my experimental set-up, not having my soil core (inherent part of my work) till June 2009 etc.  However, if I have to sum up everything into one phrase that were stopping me to get any productive results, then it is “striving for perfection”.

Yes, you heard it right. Trying to be perfect is probably the single most attitude to destroy many people’s career and life. There is a clear distinction between perfection and excellence.  Perfection is only achieved until there is no possible improvement of the work.  Excellence can be achieved when the major goal behind work is done with some minor/not so important room for improvement.

Perfection can drive us to set impossible goal. Not achieving it can easily demoralize us and we end up quitting the work. It makes us doubt our ability and become under-achiever without knowing what is going wrong.  You can get a lot of success by kicking out the perfectionist inside you as written by Cori Padgett in this excellent post (note: not a perfect post!).  By doing so, you will save a lot of time and effort that otherwise would have wasted as discussed here.

Performace vs Time

Basically, it is like 80:20 rule.  You can get 80% of your work done by spending 20% of the time a perfectionist could take to get the job done.  You can spend rest 80% of the time to get only final 20% done.  Problem lies on how you want to finish. Excellence can be achieved within reasonable time. Perfection will take tons of time as shown in this bar graph.  You can spend 100% of a working time to do a perfect job, yet you could have done an excellent job by working only 60% of that time and save those 40% time for something else.

Therefore, we need to ask ourselves questions about achieving perfection. How much value will we compromise if we stop at excellent level? How much longer will it take to move from excellent to perfect? What cost we have to pay to meet perfection at work?  Does the extra time and cost to achieve perfection worth it?

If extra time and effort have no worth, why bother getting to perfect level when we can do many jobs in the same time at excellent level – the level that is enough to lead us to ultimate success in any field. I am slowly kicking the perfectionist inside me. 

What about you? Please share this post if you like it.

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Insignificant work – significant outcome


Mahatma Gandhi

“Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it” – Mahatma Gandhi

A quote that I did not know before today, a quote that Gandhi had told, but it made my Saturday morning beautiful and shinning.  It is irony that I learned about this quote today while watching “Remember me” movie in a perfect Saturday morning when I supposed to be sleeping.

I am not a big fan of everything Gandhi said, not because I disagree with him, but because I did not have a vision to contemplate his philosophy.  Every now and then, we come across many powerful quote/message/motivational phrases.  Those good words may create a spark for few moments, but soon it vanishes like a shooting star.

Because, we don’t like to live the message, rather just talk about it.  Gandhi said “my life is my message”.  What message I like to give when I lived my life.  I don’t know or I may never know.

But I may try to make sure that my action does reflect what message I like to give, not the word I say.  However insignificant it may be, but I will do it, because no one else will do it.

So does this blog!  It does not matter what I write here, if I am not living my thought and writing. And it is better that I do.

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Personal and professional life are not that different


Joe, my mentor, inspiring us during a field sampling trip to ORNL.

Last year, we had a much-anticipated group meeting with my adviser, Joe, along with six more graduate students. We all tried to come up with a mission statement for our group. What do you expect when a professor, leading bunch of graduate students in a reputed university, has asked you to have a group statement. A statement that will describe what we stand for to move this group forward in academic life? I know, almost 99% of you will guess something like “work harder”, “publish more”, or do everything that brings fame to him and group in academic market.

But Joe proved us all wrong. I cannot tell the long statement we come up with him as a leader. But let me simplified it to make it understandable, not just for those who are in academia but also who are working outside school. “Collaboration” and “balance between work and personal life” were the basis for the mission statement.

All of us can understand the power of collaboration or collective effort to maximize our output. But balance between personal and professional life was definitely unexpected in academic group where most of the professors secretly expect you to work 10-18 hours a day. Joe definitely expects us to be competitive in academic life and work harder to be better than who we are.  But I admired him even more for understanding the importance of personal life for success in professional life. My strong appreciation for him did not come from his academic success, which is great in any standard. I respect him more because he did all without compromising his social life.

We sometimes draw a strong, thick line between professional and personal life. I am also guilty of separating both. The more I think about it, it is not that different. We as an individual represent the same person in both environments.  Therefore, it is hard to be successful in one life suppressing the other.  Our action in both lives reflects who we are.  But how we can handle both lives that bring so different kind of challenges?

It is easy to complain about either under stressful conditions. But we have to love the whole package, bad and good. We cannot discriminate and complain about uncomfortable side when we enjoy the good side. Life cannot be always perfect and it should not be. Wherever we work, there will be always good and difficult times.  Whether it is good or bad time, it always gives us an opportunity to redefine what we stand for.

Similarly, personal life can be very dramatic and bring lots of unwanted stress. We cannot disown the mistakes or pain brought upon by someone we love, when we enjoy the every positive side of his/her company. We have to accept who he/she is and enjoy the best of us instead of complaining about those few moments that bring unhappiness to life. And complaining always obscures the reality and moves us a step back from our goal – the goal of having a happy balanced life at work as well as home.

At least, that is what I learned having Joe as my adviser and having my best friend as my life partner.  With all their weakness and strength, I am grateful for who they are – an incredible individual.  Between both, I find the line between work and home getting thinner and thinner. 

How thin that line is for you? Please share this post if you like it.

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“Craziness” of Modern Society


Bob - the crazy man

My return flights from Spokane to Denver were very eventful in my last two visits to Washington State.  First one was memorable because of an event related to delay of flight and the second one was due to my late arrival at the airport that lead to missing the flight.  This time, it was none of the above.  But I had a feeling that something was about to happen to make this journey noteworthy.   I was not sure whether I should be sad or happy that everything was going as planned.  I took my seat and started making plan to engage myself for next two hours.

Everything changed with an elegant smile of a person who was in his mid 50’s.   “Hellooooo – my friend.  My name is Bob and what is yours?” was the voice I heard. I knew that moment that my waiting for an unexpected moment was over.  Bob’s free frank attitude, graceful smile and sky-like openness of his heart made me believe as if I knew him for last 10 years. I learned many amazing stories of his life in next 2 hours of his incessant talk.  Briefly, he was a hippie of 70s, a veteran of Vietnam war who come back to finish his high school at the age of 42, and was now traveling in airplane for the first time after 70’s.  He was held for few minutes by TSA because of his ignorance related to materials he could not carry in flight.  His present is as intriguing as his past.  Bob is now working in a convenient store by interstate highway near Clarksville, Arkansas and is happily living with his wife whom he got married 4 years ago.

A comedian by heart, he always tries to make everyone smile without afraid of being judged.  He has been doing it without worrying about the response he gets.  In his word – “I smile at everyone as I am learning everyday something new from every conversation with a stranger.  The day I’ll stop learning is better be the day I die”.  However, he admits with smile that he is outpaced by technology and modern society where everyone seems to forget the importance of sharing few jokes with a stranger.  He went on telling stories how people ignored him in his earlier connecting flight thinking he is “crazy”.

Calling a stranger crazy who offers few jokes to make you smile!!  Sadly, it is more inconvenient truth than global warming.  The definition of craziness in modern society is to talk to a stranger like his best friend, to smile and share your story with someone you barely know.  We all have our excuses for not being open to strangers.  It could be our fear of being judged or insecurity about our self-confidence or privacy.

I agree that there are valid reasons for being cautious with an outsider in the era when credit-theft is norm in our day-to-day life.  But don’t you think that we may have gone too far to protect our false ego or personal space?  So far that we could not even smile and share few jokes as if someone can decode our social security number from the way we talk.  There may be 10% of us who are crazy enough to take advantage of strangers, but rest 90% of us withdraw into shell because of those few idiots and changed the definition of craziness forever.  Question remains and introspection necessary to redraw the line that separate craziness from normal.

I would never forget the stories Bob shared with me that many schools are selling in the name of MBA degree.  You heard it right.  He was talking about personal management that no book/course can teach except one crazy hippie from 70’s.  Bob may be crazy or too friendly for ordinary folks, but he made my two-hour journey the best one ever.

Please share this story if you like it.

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