Tim Ferriss, one of my favourite writers and podcasters, has introduced me to a number of vision and goal-setting tools over the last decade or so. A really helpful one springs from the observation that you very rarely need to be a millionaire to be content. Sometimes people set wildly unachievable goals, thinking that will help them to be happy – “If I was a millionaire I could do whatever I want!” – and then fail and are miserable because it’s hard to be a millionaire.
But if you wanted a nice car, a big TV or a holiday you could work out how much you would need – and it would be a lot less than a million pounds. Then perhaps you could start to work towards really getting what you want.
I remember in my PhD that I was banging my head against my desk for a week trying to solve a problem that I needed for a piece of a maths proof – before realising that I didn’t need to answer that problem at all! I was aiming for the greatest version of that result, when what I needed was much simpler. Realising this, I found what I needed in minutes.
(and ten minutes later, realised that applying the simpler result could help show the larger one!)
Sometimes PhD candidates set themselves up for heartache and misery in their viva preparations because they think they have to be exceptional in everything at all times. They must know their bibliography back to front, have memorised their thesis and be almost-precognitive in their ability to anticipate their examiners’ questions.
None of these things are needed. Have you got a thesis? Have you made a contribution? Have you worked hard and been dedicated for the years you’ve worked towards your PhD? Can you take a little time to get ready? Then you’re good.
You don’t need to be a millionaire to be content. You don’t need perfection to pass your viva.