This week I finally (finally) published the survey for my dissertation research.1
The double finally is due in part to the duration of the pilot study I did to assess the usefulness of my study materials (informed consent documents, survey, interview protocols) and my long back-and-forths with the Institutional Review Board which, depending on who you ask and on what day, protects research participants from misleading, dangerous, and predatory study interventions or covers the university’s legal ass. (In fact it does both, so some of the arduousness was for a good cause).
It is also due in part to the fact that I was procrastinating.
Several years ago, a higher education scholar I followed—I wish I remembered who—tweeted that people who procrastinate aren’t doing it because they don’t care enough; they procrastinate because they are perfectionists, and the idea of doing a bad job or not being able to do something makes them anxious and avoidant. I resonated with this; it has changed the way I talk to my students and the way I talk to myself. And then a few weeks ago I was texting with my friend, a therapist, who was avoiding the session notes she needed to finish. “Why am I adding stress by continuing to put this off?” she said. “What is this doing for me that I continue it?”
I have found this question enormously useful in the weeks since then. I try to ask it non-judgmentally; I decide that I might have very legitimate reasons for the decisions I am so annoyed with myself for making, and perhaps I and myself might solve this problem together in a more productive way if we collaborate, or I might be able to offer myself some comfort and support in a moment of anxiety.
What was it doing for me that I continued putting off my survey revisions? Well, I was very worried that I’d send something into the world with an embarrassing typo or misstep, and people would doubt my intelligence or the legitimacy of my scholarship.
What was it doing for me that once I published the survey, I continued putting off emailing people who might be willing to share it with friends and acquaintances? Well, I was very worried that they might think my research is boring or that I am weird for doing it or that it’s rude of me to ask or that I asked in a cloying way. I was also worried because it’s difficult, rhetorically, to write an email asking for a favor from 1. A friend from my off-campus semester I haven’t seen in several years and 2. My brother-in-law and 3. Nathan’s seminary classmates all in one go.
So what it was doing for me was protecting me from the vulnerability and risk of sharing something that matters to me with people whose good opinion also does. It can certainly be argued that it was doing other things for me as well—I considered explanations ranging from “I am obsessed with ‘having potential’ which means I can never fulfill it without losing value and disappointing people who thought I could do better” (plausible) and “I don’t know what to do when I’m done with this task so doing it would remove the buffer between me and further unknowns” (also, unfortunately plausible) to the ever-present “does anything matter at all when *gestures at pandemic, climate change, our persistent failure to pass voting rights legislation, the rise in hate crimes, etc., etc.*” (no comment).
But I am trying to change the things I can and accept the things I can’t and carefully discern the difference—to paraphrase—and to be kind to other people and also myself at a time when everything feels a little scarier than it did even a month ago. What is this doing for me that I continue it? What comfort and rest and connection and peace can I cultivate so that I’m a little braver, even in these small things? What must I remember about who I am—conscientious, fallible, deeply loved—so I can take another little step?
1 Please take the survey if you 1. were raised in white evangelicalism 2. have used social media to write back to that community 3. live in the United States and 4. were born between 1986-1996.2
2 My sincere apologies to all Canadians and people born in 1983, the two groups who have been the most vocally disgruntled about ineligibility, which warms my heart (people want to take my survey!) and also pains me (so I promise a follow-up study if anyone hires me into a faculty job).
Katie is a doctoral student in English and education at the University of Michigan. She loves the New York Times crossword puzzle, advice columns, oceans, and dogs of all kinds.