PhD wisdom from Tina Fey?

by K.M.

I’m currently reading Tina Fey’s Bossypants — it’s fun (and funny), relatively frivolous, and definitely NOT about networks, policy, or institutions — in other words, a break*! In one chapter, Fey outlines some of the best career advice she received from Lorne Michaels. An excerpt:

‘The show doesn’t go on because it’s ready; it goes on because it’s 11:30.’
This is something Lorne has said often about Saturday Night Live, but I think it’s a great lesson about not being too precious about your writing. You have to try your hardest to be at the top of your game and improve every joke you can until the last possible second, and then you have to let it go.”

When I read that, I stopped and paused for a moment. It really resonated strongly with me as a PhD student and self-confessed-but-working-on-it perfectionist. In fact, I think we’d all do well to remember in general.

It reminded me of two useful pieces of advice I’ve received concerning perfection. One is from a professor I once heard give a very informal talk on PhD “survival tips.” He said that no piece of writing or project will ever be perfect and that, moreover, it doesn’t have to be. There is always the chance to improve, to make it better. When I heard that, especially from an established prof, it really stuck with me. The other is from (ironically!) a high school math teacher who I remember always saying, “Perfection is the enemy of the good.” In other words, it doesn’t have to be perfect; it just has to be good. I try to remind myself of these tidbits as often as I can, and Lorne/Tina’s anecdote is going right up there alongside them. The “let it go” part is important (and so difficult) — learn and move on to the next paper/application/presentation/chapter/etc.

*I am a big reader and firmly believe that having a non-academic book on the go at all times is a MUST for sanity and well-being!