Many traditions, Persian and Navajo to name a couple, have a practice that every hand-woven carpet, no matter how beautiful must contain one flaw somewhere in its design. The idea is that only the Divine is perfect, and that all other things are inherently flawed, thus the carpet must reflect the world’s natural imperfection by containing at least one flaw. Though few of us these days spend our time weaving carpets, how freeing would it be to approach our daily work with such an open acceptance of imperfection?
Now if you’re like most dissertation writers, you’re probably thinking, “I don’t have to deliberately engineer a flaw in my dissertation. There are so many, and they are so obvious!”
First, your dissertation probably is not nearly so flawed as you believe it to be, and what flaws it does have are undoubtedly not as obvious as you think. But that’s another issue, and we’ll leave that be for now.
Let’s start instead with the mutual recognition that just like those beautiful, hand-woven carpets, your dissertation is not perfect. That is as it should be. Remember, your dissertation is the academic equivalent of training wheels. It’s wear you learn the craft of academic writing. Yes, you’ve written papers, but this is your first independent research project. I don’t know of any four-year-olds, no matter how precocious, who hopped up on a 10-speed racing bike and took off down the road the first time they got on a bicycle. Everyone has to take at least a few runs on training wheels. We then graduate to a regular bike with mom or dad helping us stay upright. And most of us probably fell off at least once before we figured things out.
Likewise, your dissertation is not likely to be your grand masterpiece. In fact, it’s generally held that one’s writing and research should improve throughout their academic career. Think about that. If you write your grand masterpiece now, you have nowhere to go but down for the rest of your career. What a depressing thought!
So, accept your dissertation as a practice run. Know that it will not be perfect, and regard its imperfections with kindness, or at least tolerance. You will improve. And as you get more academic writing experience, you will develop a better understanding of which imperfections are acceptable, and which are not. If you really think there is something that needs correcting, don’t be afraid to seek feedback. Find a colleague or faculty member who can help. But in the meantime, don’t let your fear of imperfection keep you from writing and turning in those flawed drafts. Remember, a done dissertation is far, far better than a hypothetical, perfect one that never leaves the confines of your own head. The former is likely to lead to you being called doctor. The latter will do nothing but offer you the disappointment and psychological baggage of spending the rest of your life as one of the 54% of ABD graduate students who never earn their Ph.D.
So celebrate your imperfections. And if you can’t celebrate them, at least be kind. And keep writing, no matter what until your dissertation is done!