The Pursuit of Perfection

In grad school I met a lot of really impressive people, which forced to ponder the pursuit of perfection. This was particularly true after observing several interviews with faculty candidates. Based on its statue, UT attracts a ton of high-quality wannabe professors. Of the 600+ applicants for each tenure-track position, only the top three get an interview; these select few are the rock stars of their field. With resumes that put the average person to shame, these individuals are nearing perfection, at least by academic standards.

One interview left me feeling uneasy. A candidate was extremely polished, having confidence backed with a cliched answer for every question. After our conversation the individual left me feeling like I had read a tutorial on success rather than interacted with a full, sentient being. For a week I have struggled to put my finger on why the insincerity bothered me so much. I understood that I had not spoken to a “real” person, whether the individual was unreal (some people are just that good) or simply lied, I cannot say. What I can say, however, is that an educator’s role is to teach. One cannot teach a subject that they have not learned and learning necessitates progression, not perfection. Such extreme perfection, as displayed by the candidate, means that an individual has never struggled so they have never learned. How can you teach a student something that always made sense to you?

A poor analogy: We do not ask a person with 20/20 vision how to have good eyesight; instead, we ask the person with 20/200 vision how they got to 20/20. In my opinion, this is very similar to the millionaire playboy who was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple—few people can respect his opinion or take him seriously if he speaks about success.

The experience has improved my understanding of the value of context and stories in interviews. To err is human; what you do after the error defines your character.

The net effect: pursue perfection or stay perfect, but remember where you came from. Present your accomplishments humbly, in context of where you started and where you are now.