Life Lessons from the Library: At Some Point, You’ve Got to Do Something with That Research!

This disease is well known among Ph.D. students: researchitis. This happens when a graduate student keeps researching and researching a topic but never actually gets to the writing stage of the dissertation. This can happen for many reasons from fear of not having enough material, from fear of the actual writing, or from the simple fact that researching is a hundred times more fun than writing.

Researchers, at all stages from the beginning composition student to the engineer at a major company, must, at some point, put down the books and  journals and do something with that knowledge. It may be to write the paper. It may be to take the product to a test market. It may be to admit that the process won’t really work. But something has to be done.

The same is true in life. At some point, we have to realize that, whether we know everything about a subject or not, we’re going to have to take action. It may be buying the car before we’ve consulted every single consumer website. It may be admitting that we don’t need to read another self-help book before we start telling people how we really feel. It may be that taking another class before starting our business is no longer the best course.

I’ve always admired my friend Margaret on that score. When she wanted to stop teaching and have a more flexible schedule from home, she researched being a freelance writer and then became one. When she told us a few years ago that she suddenly realized her mother had more friends than she did, she looked at ways of making more friends and then went out did it: joining Curves or hosting a neighborhood party. If it had been left to me, I would still be looking for that last perfect book on making friends so that I would be sure that I’d have everything right and couldn’t fail.

Of course, that’s the secret. Having done the research certainly gives you an advantage in being successful. But it can’t insure it. You could still fail. But here’s the thing: If you wait until you have every perfect piece of information, then you’ll definitely fail because you’ll never do anything.

A good example here is Thomas Edison who certainly did his research but also more than his share of trying. When asked if he were discouraged about failing so many times at “inventing” the light bulb, he responded that he hadn’t failed, he’d only found 10,000 ways that hadn’t worked. Which put him that much closer to one that would.

As a library person, I love research. If I did nothing but research, I would be a very happy camper. But real success marries research and action.


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