Reflections on (Im)perfection

When I talk about blogging with students (or faculty) who are just starting to blog, someone almost always asks “how do I know what’s good enough to share?”

It’s a great question. I ask it of myself almost every single time I sit down to write a post. It seems to me that the question reveals two separate but related types of uncertainty:

  1. “What if I’m wrong?”
  2. “What if my audience doesn’t like it?”

This post is about the first uncertainty: the fear of being wrong or otherwise imperfect.

Despite all the educational texts and scholars who reassure us that we learn through mistakes and grow through conflict, I have a major, lifelong problem with a fear of being imperfect. For what it’s worth medical training does not help those with natural tendencies; in fact, it makes it much worse.  Learning in the open, specifically blogging, has been one way for me to hack away at the conditioning just a bit.

I blog, therefore I reveal my imperfections.  Often.  In public.

This morning Lee Skallerup and I spoke with Ken Bauer’s class on digital identity, just like I threatened to in my last post.  Lee was great.  I was absolutely horrible.   I couldn’t make eye contact with the camera to save my life.  I know this because I watched the video later this afternoon.  It was a distracting amount of a lack of eye contact. It was subpar. It was definitely imperfect.

My impulse, of course, was to rip myself to shreds. I had a parent’s night at my daughter’s school tonight.  My husband stayed home to watch the kids  and as I drove alone  to the school I started the ritualistic self-pugilism.  It may sound overly dramatic to call it self-pugilism but no – no one will ever be as hard on Laura Gogia as I am on myself.

However, as I pulled up to the school I said to myself: You’ve had a migraine for the last four days. You still have a migraine. Your head hurts like hell. You’re exhausted and ragged and you didn’t do great today but don’t you think it’s time you gave yourself a break?

Giving yourself a break.  It’s impossible under some circumstances to do your best, let alone be perfect.  Everyone deserves a break, even you.  Even me.

Perfection comes through practice – from trying and failing and picking yourself up and trying again.  I didn’t do great today but I could learn from the effort.  Migraine or no, I’ve gotten into a bad habit of not making eye contact with the camera during video conferences.  Friends have been mentioning it since April.  It’s a lazy move – I’m an introvert. I write better than I speak, and when I have to think and speak at the same time it’s easier for me to focus (or maybe I just enjoy it more) if I crawl back into myself and pretend no one else is there. I talked it over with my family (I showed them parts of the video) and we decided that I should tape a picture of them next to the camera lens and talk to that the next time I do a video conference – for a little while, just to get me back into the habit of actually TRYING to present well.

There’s a meaning to this brief, rough blog post – because, like I said today, I never hit the publish button unless I think at least one person out there might find something in it useful. I (you) can get better, but first comes

  1. screwing up
  2. giving my(your)self a break when I (you) screw up.
  3. take what I (you) can from the experience and strategize.
  4. get better.

We all have to learn that.  Blog to find out how to blog. Only then will you know what’s worth sharing.


6 Comments Add yours

  1. CogDog says:

    There are not enough heart and like buttons to add to this post.

    This seems to be a human condition, measuring our actions, what we say, what we wear, by a constructed guess as to how the world will receive it.

    I had similar questions from Ken’s students too “How much should I blog?” “How do I indicate when I am giving fact versus opinion?” “How will what I share get seen?”

    It struck me that like you, I hear two questions, which are somewhat in opposition:

    * What if someone reads my blog posts? (the is it good enough question)
    * What if no one reads my blog posts? (the whats the point, why do this question)

    I wish I knew how to convince people to turn off these questions, and just “blog to find out how to blog”. That’s why a course experience helps to focus on some topics, with some structure, rather than just staring at the blank edit screen of a personal blog.

    My approach to blogging, Amy Burvall’s, yours, are ones we honed, and continue to hone over time. Like most people will see, my first blogging was weak, dull, just link sharing. I think it took me 2-3 years to even find my zone, and more to really make it my own, and I continue to work on it.

    You know I will say something about writing for yourself first, not the audience 😉 But I agree with with you have said before, the audience is important, getting even a nod of acknowledgement.

    I was intrigued about one student’s question about whether readers will understand when she is sharing information versus opinions. To me it’s simple- say it up front. “I expect to be wrong here but…” I get more out of being wrong on my blog then being right (as if there are measures), but among my favorite experiences are ones where people countered me, changed my thinking, or just pointed out my mistaken thinking.

    It was really in the process of teaching and blogging for ds106 that I found the joy of “messing up in public” – the video stream that flubbed, the wondering is the mic on, when a student found a better tool or explanation than I provided. I sometimes even did it on purpose I nearly always say that the problem is not making a mistake in public, it’s not acknowledging and reflecting/correcting in public. The way to get over worrying about “not being good enough” is occasionally being really bad (not evil!)

    Being perfect is a tall job I am not up to. I told them *every* person deals with this question of “is my stuff good enough” question; the only people who do not are psychopaths or presidential candidates.

    This may or may not help for the video eye contact question. It’s hard to do because of the loss of depth perspective, disparity of eye to eye contact, in these cases, their eyes are really small and far away. But my radio guru pal Scott Lockman suggested a radio trick to help people talk more naturally, and I think it works for video too. Place a photo of someone you love right behind the camera, and talk as if you were talking to them. Look at their photo and you are looking at the camera.

    Hope the migraine passes.


    1. Laura Gogia says:

      Hi Alan 🙂
      I actually mentioned to Ken’s class how you and I have discussed “writing for yourself, not an audience” so many times! I find that I flipflop on this issue significantly depending on what and how I am blogging. When I blog about my research, it tends to be geared towards an audience…or blogged because I intend to point an audience towards it later. When I blog reflectively on my life experience (this post, for example), I do it for me entirely. However, these are the posts to which people almost always respond (usually in Twitter DMs or in person) and I’d be lying if I said the positive feedback didn’t provide me with a certain level of support and encouragement. I mess up in public and in private (all the time, really), and blogging about it is part of the reflecting/correcting process for me. You’re right – we all have our own way of doing it and they all work. BTW, I had a videoconference meeting today and managed to stare into the pinhole the entire time – I think it helps when the little box people are at the top of the computer screen rather than the bottom (I’m thinking go to meeting, zoom), but regardless – the retraining is underway :).


  2. Take 2 for this comment, based on memory…
    I don’t think it’s possible for a human to be perfect, so I don’t stress when I fall short of that goal. I do think it’s possible to improve and so strive for that. In grad school, I realized early on how little I knew about my field. I set myself a goal: As long as I was learning I would keep at it. & that’s how I finished.


    1. Laura Gogia says:

      Learning is hard work, Steve. Every once in a while, I wish I could take a little break – just a day or two, maybe a week.


  3. Maha Bali says:

    I knew about your migraine and I think you did great, considering. I also think you did great in general (even if you didn’t have the migraine). I am not just saying this to make you feel good… I just wanted to point out that you did give to Ken’s students in writing posts before and after…and in that session. So you didn’t make eye contact (I got used to that… I notice it but it doesn’t bother me anymore because you know something? When I am on a PC not a laptop it’s a heck of a juggling act sometimes to get the camera just right for eye contact…and eye contact online is an illusion – it’s not really eye contact and with a class as big as Ken’s it’s ptetty disconcerting because they are a HUGE class so whom are you making eye contact with, really?)

    I was having an opposite type of reaction to my experience w Ken’s course and I should blog it. About whether I should have done it even though my child was awake that day and even though her dad was around she came to me several times. Part curiosity about new people on screen and part missing me… I will write elsewhere.

    Ok but one more thing. I realized that knowing people beyond the one hour session that gets recorded gives perspective. Someone was once wondering why i wasn’t nagging book chapter authors for a book l am editing and I was like “well because I know X just lost a loved one and Y just came back from a trip and Z is finishing their thing…”… U know?

    Ok i better stop.


    1. Laura Gogia says:

      As usual, all good stuff, Maha :). Point #1 (in no particular order) Eye contact online IS an illusion, especially when the audience is in a small box in the bottom of the screen and the camera lens is at the top of the screen…it’s kind of like taking a selfie and needing to not actually look at the picture but rather to the side of the picture…all very disorienting if you ask me and I’m not 100% sure I like giving into the illusion. Nevertheless, now that I’ve made such a big deal about it, I have every incentive to work on doing just that. You might have gotten used to me looking absolutely everywhere but at you, but I haven’t and I won’t. Point #2. I like the juxtaposition of your experience with mine. I look forward to reading your post, but I’m assuming that you are thinking that maybe you shouldn’t have given yourself away (when you should have been with Hoda). If this is the case, then you interpreted my post as being about not giving enough of myself to the group. That’s really interesting. Entirely accurate – but I hadn’t thought about it in such straightforward terms. Thanks. I have things to think about with this. Point #3. The pros and cons of knowing the backstory. That’s a blog post too :). Good to see you Maha. Thanks for stopping by.


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