Completionists Can Be Really Annoying

As a perfectionist, I annoy the completionists around me who just want to get the task done. Over the years, I’ve learned to give up some of my tendencies. I know I’m far from, uh, perfect.

This morning I approached my office to find the work table outside the front of it missing. That might not be problematic, per se, but in this case my mind went to the 3 small jigsaw puzzles on it that students had completed over the previous days.

I’d seen a puzzle table in the foyer of another academic institution which I thought was a great idea for relieving stress, so I set up a table outside my office for students to work on. When the puzzles get completed, I disassemble them to reuse another year.

The puzzles were 300, 300, and 100 pieces each and had been sitting there, completed, decorating the table awaiting the start of another one. The box was sitting on one of the chairs and the table was nowhere in sight. I discovered later that someone had used it for an event setup. Reasonable.

What killed this perfectionist is that the someone who took the table just swept the pieces of the 3 puzzles together into one box.

Did you get that? The pieces for 3 different puzzles were now all mixed together. In one box.

A perfectionist would have figured out a way to separate the pieces when putting them away. They came as part of a set of individually wrapped puzzles in that one box. (A different kind of perfectionist had thrown away the original bags. A true completionist would have just left the bags in the box.) But surely the person completing the setup could have taken a few seconds longer to heap the pieces of 2 of the puzzles on the remaining 2 chairs and the 3rd in the box, right?

Completionism is when a person’s goal is simply to get a task done. It doesn’t really matter how. (Why thrown away the bags rather than just leave them? Get on to the puzzle making.) Perfectionism is when a person’s goal is to get the task done a very specific way.

But completionism and perfectionism are a false duality. There are degrees and the dualism is actually a gradient. One completionist needing the table could actually have found another one somewhere else. (There was an identical one in the next room.) Another could have swept the pieces on the floor.

The completionist who took the table didn’t even bother moving the chairs out of the walkway. But s/he had just enough perfectionism to make sure the pieces didn’t get lost.

The positivist in me is glad they were small puzzles.

The Official Calvin Wang Fan Club

My father was a mechanical engineer and my mother continues to practice fine artist. Their combination of genes certainly contributed to my success as an undergrad at the University of Chicago (where the Common Core was refined) taking physics along with Greek Thought and Literature. I’ve long been about connections—connecting across disciplinary boundaries, certainly the ones circumscribing the arts and the sciences. I’m also about significance—trying to say something meaningful, thoughtful. These are qualities that have drawn a certain segment of people to me. Some people really like that I care to make connections in thought and conversation. You may very well be among them if you already know me and hope that my writing reflects my speaking or if you find yourself returning to read me time and again or even if you are binge reading me as a newbie.

A recent conversation with a college-aged family friend made me think about that segment of people again, that segment that I call “fans.” I use that term self-consciously because I am no celebrity. I don’t get talked about in the media. I’ve made no fantastic contributions to politics or culture. And the first time I told my teen-aged daughter about my fan club, she rolled her eyes. Audibly.

The Official Calvin Wang Fan Club recruited its two official members when I was yet a library school student. Particularly interested in developing the technical side of my academic skill set, I was taking my first online course in database management. It was 2004. I was at Drexel University’s College of Information Sciences and Technology.

I was trying to retool myself professionally for the 2nd time after working for 10 years in applied materials research and development and 5 in non-profit administration. I also have a professional degree in medical art which provided the medical sculpting skills I brought to the materials profession. Yeah, I have an unusual background, but it’s served me well as the Sciences librarian at Arcadia University. In fact, it contributed to me deciding to get a degree in library science with the intent of working in a health sciences library like AU’s. That and a few years of library work/study employment as an undergrad.

While I have no IT training, I was not terribly afraid to exercise some hardware and software skills at home. I’d also taken a few related courses. It helped that Drexel’s library school was housed in the College of Information Sciences and Technology. Still, most of the enrolled students were working in IT and were pursuing related degrees at Drexel.

With the start of the term, I was keenly aware of the dearth of depth that students were already displaying in their discussion board posts, beginning, for some, as early as introductions. I was determined to do better.

Instead of rushing to post as quickly as possible my first impressions of the readings we were assigned, I restrained myself. I digested articles. I reread. I compared and contrasted. I considered ways something struck me based on the professional and life experiences I had. I connected. And then I posted.

I wasn’t a Pulitzer Prize aspirant, but I generated decent posts and occasionally got people to comment. I was certainly—in my humble opinion—on the upper end of the bell curve for quality of content.

As a high school senior, I also cared to write thoughtful comments in classmates’ yearbooks. More than once I remember someone saying to me, “Yours is my favorite comment. Everyone else just signs their name.”

I wasn’t primarily an online student, so I was down on campus from my suburban Philadelphia home regularly. One evening the Medical Library Association’s Philadelphia Regional Chapter (of which I’m now the 2017-2018 chair) hosted a reception for interested students at the college’s building in West Philly.

As I introduced myself to someone at the gathering, another attendee conversing with someone else abruptly turned around and said, “You’re Calvin Wang?! I’m in the online database management class with you! I’m such a big fan of yours!” I kid you not, I was dumbfounded. Apparently my effort to be thoughtful had drawn attention from at least 2 students who regularly emailed each other to find out if I’d posted yet to the discussion board. They appreciated the fact that I bothered to write a little more deeply than the average bear and they deliberately paid attention to when I posted and what I said. With that the Official Calvin Wang Fan Club was born.

There’s are no dues. There is no sign up sheet. You just have to appreciate my take on the world and whatever I happen to be writing about to be a member. You know, you don’t even have to tell me you’re a fan. We can call it a secret fan club.

So who are some of the members? That college student family friend. I shared with her about dualism and committed relativism in a conversation about her studies. My newly retired boss is a fan as is a library colleague who’s been the biggest supporter of my writing. The young men I have the good fortune to mentor, in the faith and in the profession, they’re members. My wife. And my mother. I sometimes wear her out in conversation, she says, but she’s a fan.

And maybe you.

But not my teen-aged daughter. She gets bored.

Linked References (MLA Style)

mother“: Ruby Watercolor. Ruby H. Wang, n.d. http://rubywatercolor.com/. Accessed 3 Aug. 2017.

Common Core“: “Common Core.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. Accessed 3 Aug. 2017.

connections“: Wang, Calvin H. “Technologization of Life or Just Making of Unexpected Connections…or Both.” i-candy by wangc. Calvin H. Wang, 12 Apr. 2009, http://icandybywangc.blogspot.com/2009/04/technologization-of-life-or-just-making.html. Accessed 3 Aug. 2017.

dualism and committed relativism“: Wang, Calvin H. “Dualism and Gradations.” iCandybyWangC. Calvin H. Wang, 21 Jul. 2017, https://icandybywangc.wordpress.com/2017/07/21/dualism-and-gradations/. Accessed 3 Aug. 2017.

MLA Style“: Russell, Tony, et al. “MLA Works Cited: Electronic Sources (Web Publications).” The Purdue OWL. Purdue University Writing Lab, 2017, https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/747/08/. Accessed 3 Aug. 2017.


Gender Tendencies

I developed insomnia 4:00 one morning and never did fall back asleep. After an hour lying there, I decided to go for a run. This was actually a perfect plan because I was due for a one and hadn’t gotten one in the night before as I’d hoped. It was a little after 6 a.m. when I got going.

When I looked down my street I saw the receding figure of a guy walking. I headed up toward my usual running neighborhood. Seeing the guy walking was a frequency of 2 males—including me—both exercising.

As an information scientist who teaches students how to conduct literature searches, I consistently urge them to “sleuth the heck out of [their] search results.” One aspect of this sleuthing is a significance analysis, looking for both uniqueness and, as an apparent contradiction, frequency. Significance is a detail that makes me say “hmm” or “wow” a first time. Frequency is, of course, when that significant detail happens again, because once does not a pattern make.

The first person I actually passed was a person walking a dog. That person was female. And she was minding another being. The 2 of us males were both alone.
I passed another woman. This one was walking a baby in a stroller. Now I started wondering about the meaning of this developing pattern. Did I really want to admit that when men go out they tend to mind themselves but when women do they tend to mind others?

An affirmative answer is actually not unreasonable—I had long been observant of gender tendencies—I just wasn’t sure the run I had embarked on was actually a kind of literature search of case studies on gender tendencies. It turned out that it was.

The next person I passed was…

a women…

walking a dog…

in a baby stroller.


The frequency analysis was now 3 females, all minding another being, 2 in strollers and 2 with 4 legs, compared to 2 males, minding themselves.


By the time I finished I had passed another 2 men and 2 women, all of whom were walking dogs. As far as frequency in this case study, then, dog walking is extremely significant. One of the men, though, was also walking 2 children, probably about a 9 and an 11 year old (before 7:00 a.m.! They were certainly not teenagers.). As something that made me go “hmm,” that bit of significance attributed to him credit for minding a few other beings, only one of whom had 4 legs.

It was all very interesting within an isolated period of time—unique, yes.

The next day was a Saturday when I normally join a group of people running together. We stopped at one of our standard locations with an outdoor spigot. One of the women took the hose nozzle next and passed it to me. I thanked her for her kindness and blithely refilled my water bottle. I gave the nozzle back to her. She took the nozzle back and promptly started filling someone else’s water bottle.

Image Credit: robertoaiuto, 2014.

Adapted from original (Unnamed) under terms of a Pixabay License.

Dualism and Gradations

A few years ago I read an article about the cognitive development of the college student. It stood out to me because it described how students enter their undergraduate years with a dualistic view of the world. Through their 4 years of college, they progress through various stages that ultimately end up with them understanding their world as committed relativists.

I found myself returning to that developmental progression over and over again for multiple reasons. I have not returned to that particular article, though. As luck would so often have it, I never found it again nor could I ever recall the details of who gave it to me and why.

The fact that finding specific articles without citation information can be such an exercise in futility led me to resurrect a strategy for citation management that I adopted as a library school student but gave up as entirely too compulsive for normal human beings. More on that in another blog entry.

That I didn’t have a citation management system for articles I read and that I only remembered the broad details of the article are the reasons why I never found it again. So I went through the tedious process of identifying appropriate keywords and finally learned about the scholar whose work led to it.

It turns out the article I had read was built off the work of Harvard psychologist William G. Perry, Jr., published in 1970. He postulated 9 steps that undergraduate students go through in their cognitive development process .

Here’s a webpage (Perry’s Scheme by Macie Hall) that that describes more fully William G. Perry’s model of college students’ progression from dualism to committed relativism.

Here’s my take: students enter college seeing the world in terms of dualisms: yes/no, right/wrong, good/bad, do/don’t, the teacher said so/the teacher didn’t say so (dualism).

Then they start to recognize that there are more than 2 ways of seeing the world; there are actually multiple ways (multiplicity). And all those ways are equally valid.

Next they start to qualify the different ways of seeing the world; some are better than others, at least for the purposes of the given evaluator (relativism).

Finally, they decide on a way of seeing the world that satisfies themselves (commitment or committed relativism).

The fact that there are multiple ways of looking at any issue places that issue on a spectrum with gradients. The light is not actually on or off. It is off, barely on, dimly on, moderately on, very on, and fully on. And those qualifiers overlook the infinite ones in between them.

This is important. This is icandy. Sure the entire blog is called iCandybyWangC (wangc being my Arcadia University profile name) but icandy is the kind of thought that makes me want to jump up and share with someone else—like a Ghirardelli salted caramel chocolate. It’s the kind of thought that either puts together multiple thoughts I’ve already thunk or that is so altogether provocative that I can’t possibly ignore it and don’t dare forget it. Incidentally, intermediate thoughts that make me “whoa” but aren’t enough to make me “whoooooa” I call mental ingredients.

The fact is that I’d thought about how college students develop psychologically, behaviorally, intellectually, morally, socially, and politically, but never cognitively. Perry’s model may provide insight into why non-college-educated males and the rest of voting Americans vote so differently. “May” because there’s no assumption that all non-college-educated males vote homogeneously or that all other voting Americans vote the opposite. That’s the whole point of Perry’s model: it’s about relativism and degrees.

Here’s what that has to do with information literacy. Developing researchers want the perfect article, the correct database, the ideal keywords, and the exact search strategy. But they don’t exist. The topic, the assignment, the individual, even the course and faculty member shape the process of seeking literature. And the perfectness of any aspect will come in degrees. So it all depends.

Students who find the perfect article either have no reason to write anything or are plagiarizing.

The more a given student understands who comes to me for research assistance, the more confident I am of her or his literature research maturity. The greater the number of upper level students who come for assistance providing evidence of that understanding, the more confident I feel that we librarians and the higher education development process have made the necessary impact.

Expecting Native Pronunciation of Names

I wrote once before about my practice of teaching people to pronounce my name the native Chinese way: Wäng. Lately I’ve spent more time and taken more opportunities to urge other people to teach Americans to say their names in authentically native ways. Sometimes those people are Chinese, but not always.

Recently, I went to my doctor’s office for hip pain. It turned out to be remarkably short-lived, but it was abrupt enough and severe enough, that I had to go in without making an appointment. I had no expectation that my primary doctor would be available, but I wasn’t worried. As a family practice clinic connected with our local hospital, there would be plenty of other capable physicians on duty. I managed to get in promptly.

I was pleasantly surprised to see the examining doctor. My memory of her was excellent for a couple of reasons. She greeted me as Mr. Wāng and I didn’t correct her. “Hello, Dr. Chovanes,” I said, pronouncing her name the way I remembered it: chō-von’-ess. “We met when you were a resident and you told me your husband Dr. Ulbrecht worked here as a resident and that you would be joining him next year.” Her pleasantly surprised reply was: “I wondered how you knew to pronounce my name correctly.” Then she reached back into her memory and brightened in recognition: “Are you a runner?” “Yes! That’s right. I used your husband as my primary for a couple of years.”

She finished diagnosing my hip pain as being muscular in origin which could be treated by icing and a course of an NSAID.

As we said goodbye, I asked her to greet her husband for me. I told her that I might have told him to pronounce my name Wäng. Besides it being a convenient way to correct her earlier mispronunciation, I actually thought I had told him the native pronunciation and thought he would remember me better if she pronounced it that way. She apologized self-consciously for saying it wrong. “Actually,” she said, “We have another resident named Dr. Fäng. He pronounces his name the same way.” “Yes, I’m using him as my primary doctor, now.” “You know, he didn’t correct us until after a year of us saying it wrong.”

“That would have been about the time I first started seeing him when I advised him to start telling people to pronounce it the native way”

A Random Act of Recollection

Sometime during a recent visit to my mother in Los Angeles, a name popped into my head, a Chinese name: Chao Hongdao. It won’t mean anything to you and, frankly, it meant nothing to me. It was quite random because, though I’ve met many people throughout my life with Chinese names, I don’t interact with many on a regular basis. Many Chinese adopt English names to make it easier for native English speakers to remember. This name held no obvious meaning to me. It wasn’t familiar and no person came to mind associated with it. It wasn’t familiar, yet somehow it actually was.

It was certainly a real name because it wasn’t among the phrases or sentences I’d learned in the past. Indeed, I rarely use the little Chinese I grudgingly (in younger years) learned. It had one hallmark of an actual name, the typical three syllables. The first syllable, Chao, was a common enough surname, but it meant nothing to me in terms of recency of acquaintance or context.

Except there was some kind of context because the name came to mind while I was with my mother. Somehow that had significance. I surmised that my mother might know the person, perhaps a pastor. There is a well known pastor in the east coast Chinese American Christian scene who it might have been, but I wasn’t sure how I could possibly have known his Chinese name–once I learn the name of a person in English or Chinese, it’s quite uncommon for me to learn and remember the person’s name in the other language. That and I had the nagging feeling that if I mentioned the name to one particular person in my own church who would likely be familiar with the Chinese names of pastors, that person wouldn’t recognize the name.

No, I had to ask my mother. Driving with brother and mother I did. She recognized the name immediately. “Who is it?” I asked. “Oh that’s one of Daddy’s IBM co-workers. He has 3 children.” “Really?! Why on earth would I know the name of one of his co-workers?” “Oh you know him,” meaning that I probably knew him from the Chinese bible study that they were a part of back in my hometown. “Would I recognize him?” “Oh, I’m sure you would.”

That was the extent of the conversation. That mystery was solved. But it generated more mysteries. I would only have been at that bible study as a youngster. I left Endwell, NY to go to college and would likely never have been in a situation to meet this individual again. Besides that, I would never have interacted socially with him during the time when I would have been at most an adolescent. No, it was much more likely that he continued to be a important person in the lives of my parents after I left. Though they themselves moved away years later, they still returned frequently enough and might have interacted with him intimately enough to mention his name to me later in life. Even so, I couldn’t have heard his name more than a handful of times in the last 40 years since I went to college.

The brain is a remarkable organ. You might catch a scent, hear a fragment of a song, witness a image that immediately transports you back decades to another place and time. Somehow, being with my mother triggered a series of synaptic connections to generate a long unaccessed, nominally meaningful memory like the name of a barely recalled individual.

I started off this post without identifying any professional connection, but as I wrapped my head around the idea of subconscious recollection one materialized.

I’ve spent a lot of time of late teaching about the idea of Google as BFF (because it’s big, fast, and familiar, more of that in other posts). That practice has left me questioning the value of using article databases for most students’ academic writing. Because of the shallowness of their research efforts and Google’s search capabilities, the literature research of most students below the doctoral level can be satisfied using Google and Google Scholar. So I’ve been asking myself the question of why to use or even teach anything else.

The answer lies in the value of teaching knowledge preemptively. This is the premise of the educational system: teach the fundamental knowledge people need to know so that they have it when they need it. Primary school librarians need to establish the basis of information literacy to their students for secondary and higher education librarians to scaffold upon. I need to continue incorporating database usage into information literacy instruction. Information literacy as refined through database use needs to be an element of the complete individual’s abilities so that when the information need arises, the user has the information to recall.

Wouldn’t it be outstanding to have provided just the right datum for an information seeker to mentally activate–like the name of an otherwise long forgotten person–with just the right combination of stimuli to take that individual’s search process to the next level?

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Header Photo Credit

Elisa Azzali, 2 Dec. 2009, 13:46.

Adapted from original (Candy at a souq in Damascus, Syria.) under terms of a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License.