Never finishing anything at all – 4 (or more) steps to succeed

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I have finished my talk some weeks ago, ready to edit it a bit here and there and in the end having weeks to rehearse it (…something that is reallyreallyreally important for non-native-speakers!!!) – at least that was my plan. Of course, quite the opposite happened. After finishing my first ‘draft,’ my supervisor and wonderguy (who is also my colleague, a fellow comparative literature graduate) both added their two cents, poignantly remarking that this paper will be great for all those who already know what I am working on – everyone else may feel a bit puzzled, asking him/herself what that chick out there is actually talking about. So I was obviously NOT finished. Not at all. It took me two more nights to recreate a sort of “finally finished”-feeling, and I still think it’s more a feeling than a fact. Especially since I’ve started rehearsing, realizing that I’m still changing certain passages to make them more understandable (and easier to read, to be more precise). So again, the final version is not so final after all. But editing can be tricky and a never-ending-story – it has always been very difficult for me to constrain my pedantic inner critic and carefully approach a final version I really ‘like’…

I know a lot of people are only too familiar with this struggle. For the lucky ones who NEVER had the joyous experience of questioning one’s own intellect and sanity over one small passage on page 5 of a) the last chapter of the second novel you wrote at the age of 22/31/40/53 OR b) the 235th paper you wanted to submit to a prestigious journal where you already published three other papers but still, this time they could finally realize just how awful and inapt you actually are … For those lucky ones I may offer some valuable instructions on how to finally stop finalizing stuff:

  1. Decide to work in a foreign language (at least NOT your first language) OR a jargon you are in no way familiar with – no matter how good you get and how hard you study, you will always feel inadequate, insecure, and not sure of even the most basic expressions. Always.
  2. Pursue new opportunities. Find some side aspect of your work you never before thought of investigating further, combine your familiar knowledge with new discoveries and realize that you might have missed some very important stuff which could have been really, really important for your study/thesis/paper at some earlier stage, meaning you should rework pretty much everything. This seems overwhelming, so you decide to go for a beer/coffee/tea/vegansoychailattewithextracinnamon to do some brainstorming, after which you decide to just never ever return.
  3. Purchase the book How to disappear completely and live free. It’s from the 1970ies, providing information totally unsatisfactory nowadays, and no matter what you work on, you will forget everything you ever wanted to find out about that thing you work on, instead imagining to live on some Mexican beach, selling homemade tequila. Then purchase the book How to disappear: Erase your digital footprint, leave false trails, and vanish without a trace.
  4. Realize there was a mix-up at Amazon after receiving How to disappear completely: On Modern Anorexia instead. Or maybe you mixed something up. Anyway, after reading it you decide that disappearing might not be that desirable after all and return to your research/work projects.
  5. Edit your paper/talk/thesis as much as seems necessary, but don‘t overdo it. Then give it to some trusted friends and colleagues, ask for their opinions, fear their opinions, and start editing again until either your deadline arrives or you retire.

If you need additional inspiration, go play catch in a parking lot, because you obviously missed the point of never-ever-finishing-anything at all. And yes I know, this apparently does not make any sense.  Welcome to my world!

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