As Long as it Needs to Be

In my final semester of high school, I enrolled in an alternative program known as Senior Year Project. It was a self-directed research project designed to give students the opportunity to pursue a topic of our choosing.

Rather than snooze through the final months of school, we got to go out into the world and explore an area we were passionate about. At the end of the semester, we presented our research to a group of faculty who gave us a simple pass/fail.

Before being let loose, we participated in a series of classes designed to help us hone our research skills and set our expectations for the project.

One moment from those classes stands out to me to this day: a student raised their hand and asked how long the final paper needed to be.

Our teacher simply responded, "As long as it needs to be."

When pressed for more specifics, he refused to relent, encouraging us to simply follow our curiosity, define a thesis statement, and write a paper that sufficiently defended the thesis. No more, no less.

It was such a radical answer to a question we had asked teachers so many times. After years of receiving specific parameters for our work, we were asked to simply "make something awesome."

The opportunity to work on a project where we had a say in defining our success, rather than scraping together something that would pass arbitrary measures, was empowering.

It was a powerful reminder that in the real world, the number of pages you write doesn't matter.

It's the impact they have that counts.

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