The Downside of Positive Feedback

I just got back from a four day trip during which I spent 3+ hours meeting with my dissertation advisors (separately). They were encouraging. Very encouraging. My primary advisor’s advice amounted to “Keep going. Stop researching and just write. If there’s something you’re thinking of leaving for later, don’t; do it now. You’re almost done.” My secondary advisor liked what I was doing in the chapter I showed to him and mentioned a number of editors I should send chapters to in order to get a book contract.

All of this is wonderful. Fabulously wonderful. Almost too wonderful. It makes me want to rest on my laurels.

(Not an actual nor accurate depiction of me in laurels.)

Don’t get me wrong. I certainly appreciate the laurels. But the temptation to think that this praise is enough pulls at me.

So today I’m choosing to hear what my advisors think but didn’t say: I have the writing skills and stamina to finish. I know what it means to work well. I know how to find the motivation I need. I still have a lot of work to do, and I know what that work is.

Today I choose to take pleasure in the praise, to take pleasure in completing a footnote, to take pleasure in a well-wrought sentence, and to do one day’s work that will move me closer to completion.

3 thoughts on “The Downside of Positive Feedback

  1. “So today I’m choosing to hear what my advisors think but didn’t say: I have the writing skills and stamina to finish. I know what it means to work well. I know how to find the motivation I need. I still have a lot of work to do, and I know what that work is.”

    This is a key translation, I think — sort of parallel to telling kids “you worked hard” rather than “you’re so smart” (though the praise you actually received was far more substantive than that; after all, an advisor puts hir credibility on the line when (s)he refers you to an editor). But “you’ve got what it takes to finish” is what you really need to know/hear now.

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