How to disengage
November 8, 2013 7:48 AM   Subscribe

I am a student working on a term project with a group that has pretty much gone off the rails. We're probably not going to fail, but we will definitely be submitting a solidly (sub-)mediocre finished product, when I know that we could have done much better. As someone with somewhat perfectionist tendencies, how can I learn to let go and accept this?

I mean, I know that the world is not going to end when the deadline hits -- we'll just scrape through by the skin of our teeth and plop down a haphazard pile of paper, be subjected to 30 minutes of intensely uncomfortable/embarrassing grilling from our profs and classmates, and then we'll all move on and never have to think about it ever again. But until then, it still really, really rankles me that that's the likely outcome and I can't do anything about it without further damaging my physical and mental well-being (I totally draw the line at pulling multiple all-nighters on my own to do a 6-person project).

It's not so much the threat of getting a bad mark that bothers me -- god knows I've been knocked around by school before, but in all those cases I know that I worked hard and did my best, while in this case I feel like I'm stuck in a cycle of Work Hard -> Realize My Hard Work Is Not Enough -> Stop Caring -> Feel Guilty About Not Caring -> Resolve To Work Hard. So, how do I learn how to just care less -- or at least take myself out of my head enough to get through these next couple weeks with minimal head/heartache?
posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (8 answers total)
Did you guys set up a learning contract at the beginning of this project? Did you define responsibilities at all? Talk to your professor about this before the deadline, so he or she knows what work each of you was really responsible for. Come through as well as possible on the work that is yours to do, and don't worry about the rest.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 8:10 AM on November 8, 2013

Yeah it sounds like assignment and accountability is the issue. I experience identical work ethic cycling whenever I'm left to handle an endless grab bag of shit, especially if it's shit someone else was supposed to handle. I've gotten better at making clear where my limits are.

I know what I can get away with refusing to do, when to cave but without caving in a way that eternally puts me in a role I don't wish to be. Marijuana helps me both give fucks and not give fucks. It's complicated but the root of my difficulties is largely confidence and the more confidence you have in your work the better you can manage expectations of others. It's often the best workers who go most unrecognized and are allowed to think they're just scraping by when in reality they excel at their job, no one else is even close to handling it, but power dynamics demand that "Cinderella" type people not feel appreciated unless they completely bail Wreck It Ralph style.
posted by lordaych at 8:19 AM on November 8, 2013

(in dysfunctional settings, like much of the adult American experience. We live in a dysfunctional cutthroat asshole society, which puts people like you in a tough spot, assuming you live> here. A sick system. Read about sick systems.)
posted by lordaych at 8:22 AM on November 8, 2013

What did you learn? If you learned anything in the process it will be useful and therefore very worthwhile to the future. Take it as an opportunity to consider how you'd approach a similar situation in said future. If you are someone who naturally accepts responsibility (the solo all-nighters) this can be as damaging to a team as a member not pulling their weight. Could you have flagged up the lack of work from others earlier? Did the task need more communication from everyone? Could you have chosen a more ambitious group to work with? All these questions will have answers that will be helpful to you, so in a way it has been a very fortunate experience, though your frustration may say otherwise at this point in time. You may come to see it as an excellent insight into your relationship with others when working in a team.

Stop Caring -> Feel Guilty About Not Caring

You haven't stopped caring, hence this question and don't stop, it is a much-admired trait.
posted by 0 answers at 8:24 AM on November 8, 2013

At this point, it's sounds like whatever is going to happen is going to happen. And the truth is, it really won't matter in the long run. I do wonder if there is a way to speak with the professor or convey that you have held up your end up the bargain and others in your team have failed the group. But that might be not possible and it won't be the end of the world.

I would really take something like this as a learning experience going forward. You will have to work in groups again, whether it's in school or in your job. So learning how to work within a group is important. You will learn how you work best within a group and what to expect. When I did group projects in school, I eventually found myself taking on a leader role and delegating tasks and helping set expectations for what everyone would do with their specific piece of the project. I learned that in a group I'd rather be leading than sitting back and I feel better about having some control. And I found that groups tend to want a leader. It may be a different situation with you. Maybe it will be the opposite where you will learn it's better for you to not feel like you are responsible for the group because in the end, you can't control what other people do. Or maybe when another leader steps up, it will be a lesson in being a follower, which undoubtedly you will have to be throughout life. Anytime you fail to reach perfection, you can learn something from it.
posted by AppleTurnover at 8:51 AM on November 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Taking this question from a little different angle, dealing with perfectionism is really difficult.

I know my own perfectionism can get me into a horrible path of Work Hard -> Realize My Hard Work Is Not Enough -> Stop Caring -> Stop Working -> Feel Guilty About Myself and Everything

I didn't have this problem in undergrad, but like you, I was a perfectionist with group work. It wasn't until grad school that I started being so hard on myself. So maybe don't go to grad school (this is mostly a joke - but I do think grad school brings out these tendencies).

Anyway. This is a real issue and it's good of you to recognize it early so you can address it. My motto ended up being 'The perfect is the enemy of the done'. And noticing that the correlation about what people perceived as my best work and what I thought of as my best work wasn't 1:1. Also, putting more effort into my life - it was a lot easier to let go being perfect about my work when I was pretty happy with everything else. Finally, when I let things go, it let's me go on to the next fun and exciting new project.

And let's be honest, therapy.
posted by hydrobatidae at 9:53 AM on November 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh man. I am having the exact same problem, to the point of being in tears about twenty minutes ago because we did the presentation (passed, because I made 5/6 of the slides and did 80% of the talking) but we still have a fifteen page term paper to write. I don't know what to do with my group other than beg the prof to let me write the paper on my own, since chances are I am going to be doing it by myself anyway and it's too disheartening to work on knowing that the other three will get a mark based on my efforts.

So, my suggestions:

1. Talk to your prof. Let him/her know that there has been an unequal division of work and that you would like to know what other possibilities exist (doing an independent portion, evaluation of group members etc.)

2. Give yourself permission to feel the emotions and talk them out either to yourself, or rant to a friend/partner about how annoyed, angry, devastated etc. this makes you feel.

3. Get over said emotions. There's ranting, then there's whining. Decide that you're an amazing person and you're not going to let this get you down, and that you'll do everything within your control to succeed, but things that out of your control are, by definition, out of your control and not worth wasting time and energy on.

I wish you the absolute best of luck.
posted by valoius at 10:21 AM on November 8, 2013

Be true to yourself, heads down, do your job and your best on this project. This situation will arise at work sooner or later. This gives you a good learning experience, consider this as a real life situation out in the workplace. Use it to give you good lessons
posted by ladoo at 10:20 PM on November 8, 2013

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