Instead of telling kids that they can be "anything they want to be” (as the US stereotype goes) or to keep their expectations low, people should be telling them to keep things simple. My recent experiences confirm that this is the best attitude to have whether you’re trying to write a dissertation or improve your tennis skills.
I don’t want my dissertation to be simple. I want it to be the ultimate answer to several super important questions. But as it turns out, that’s neither feasible, nor desirable. Trying to answer a lot of general questions has so far led me to no answers. As it also turns out, the people who come up with lots of good answers write a lot of good but specific papers. I may not be exactly like those people, but I can imitate their methods instead of trying to be all I can be.
In an entirely different realm, I finally decided to work on my tennis technique. Following a friend’s advice, I went to yellowtennisballs.com (great site!) and watched some free instructional videos. The forehand basics consist of five parts. I thought that was manageable until I stepped onto the court and realized that I was completely incapable of hitting a ball. So I just decided to focus on parts 1 and 2, which worked pretty damn well.
The point is that you can’t have everything, you can’t be everything, and you shouldn’t keep your expectations low (at least I hope to do slightly better than graduate and master 2/5 components of the forehand). But, in case your mother never told you, you should focus on one thing at a time if you want to get anywhere.