Friday, November 10, 2006

Honest evaluation

“I’m going to start working from the office more.” I said, sitting on a patio on the gulf and watching the water with Mom. We were vacationing in Destin and had rented a condo on the first floor – it had a couple bedrooms and this lovely little outdoor area where we could sit and drink coffee (Or soda. Or wine.) and just experience the waves.

“I know part of the problem is that I stay home too much. And while I do work, it’s not at the level it could be. And I’m sure people are getting frustrated. So I’ll put in more time.

“This vacation is a turning point!

“I feel quite good about this decision.”

I think that was my second year in grad school. I still spent very little time at work.

I’ve been doing some thinking of late regarding the differentiation of ability versus desire. The truth is that I have a problem with getting myself to the office with any degree of consistency. Which is a problem, but I see it as a moderate one.

I think it’s possible to find places you can hide in academia. To find PIs who are busy or oblivious or exceptionally kind. They’ve basically let me do what I do. Which is mix long droughts with small periods of stunning productivity. Yet with all my screwing around, I’ve never heard that I should work harder or do more. Because I don’t work for people who would say that.

In environments like mine, the vital skill is to prioritize meetings and seminars and not skip the big ones. Though I certainly haven’t been overly prolific, I have done some work. And Boss has seen nearly all of it. I go to meetings where I’m required to present, and even volunteer to talk at journal club. I do a lot of writing, and that can be done just as easily from my house. I have software in my office at home that I don’t have at work (Mac/PC issues). And it’s not like I had peers available for discussions from my former workspace, so what was the point?

I think that’s the core issue – and has remained so – of all my professional problems. I don’t know why I’m doing this. I’m making much less money than a few members of my cohort. Watching someone escape grad school with a Masters and make 3-4 times more than I do annually is frustrating. I was jealous and the feeling of superiority (I had a PhD. And did work that was much more challenging!) was rather false. I look at them – working clinically, performing some critical task to facilitate patient care, needing to show up every day because they – and their work – is important – and I frown over what I do. Because I don’t have that sense of purpose, nor do I have a plan for obtaining it.

My goals are pretty selfish – I want to get enough papers to get another job. I’d like to make enough money to have a house. I don’t want to work with animals – it makes me sad. I like working with human clinical populations, but that offers its own set of miserable headaches. And there are several key problems that I don’t know how to solve that limit the impact of any work I’ll do.

So rather than working to solve them, I watch TV. Read blogs and write my own. Do the minimum necessary not to get fired on some weeks, then actually produce something worthwhile when I can.

And I feel badly about myself. A lot. To a severe degree. Because I’m blowing an excellent opportunity. Because there are some days when I’m depressed – when I absolutely can’t go to the office because I’m quite ill. Then there are days when I think I just don’t get ready and drive in. It just sounds like so much trouble and Charmed is on at 7 and 8, then I can take a walk and shower. Watch Gilmore at 10, then Judging Amy at 11 and 12. Sometimes I nap at 1 rather than watching Law & Order, then I can do some reading after I wake up. By 4, nobody expects me to show up, so I can relax. Let the sick tightness of my stomach ease and tell myself tomorrow will be better. I’ll go in. And I do get something done while I'm watching all that TV, I soothe.

So I understand when I read blog posts that speak of inadequacies. Not in talent, but in…focus, drive, desire. I get tired – I’ve been tired for a long time. And while sometimes – when revising papers or analyzing interesting data – I feel happy, I don’t know what I’m trying to do here. I don’t want a faculty position. I don’t need to impress the people here enough to offer me a job – I don’t want to stay. I’m not sure where I want to go next, so I’m not working toward that. The thought of leaving research completely sounds really nice sometimes.

So the thought that I’m just putting in time – and not all that much time – is demoralizing. The idea that I wasted years preparing for a job I don’t really want is heartbreaking, largely because parts of grad school were miserable for me.

But I’ve been dragging myself to work more lately. I stayed home on Wednesday, but have otherwise at least appeared in my new office this week. I do think it’s better there – much more visible so that more people notice if I’m around. And if I put on clothes, do my hair and makeup, commute, park and sit at my desk, I’d like some recognition for it. (And yes, I know how ridiculous that sounds.)

I found myself viciously angry on the walk from the parking lot yesterday though. Forcing myself to smile and greet the friendly Southerners as I moved through the air that was too warm for November. I didn’t want to be there, and I keep getting emails from a well-meaning friend about whether or not I’m going in. Do I not ask myself that same question every day?! Why make me feel badly about something I have under control, even if said control is visible only to me? Why is it that I have to train every single person I meet to leave me alone with this particular problem? Why am I even here now? I could be watching the beginning of Judging Amy. Because my back hurts. I have a headache. This one meeting is going to be short and pointless anyway.

So I sent my customary “back off” email with the requisite “I’m very moody. Or just evil.” disclaimer. Then I messed around – answered some email, organized more files, finished moving the last of my possessions from my old desk. Told my new officemate that he was not to unplug my Ethernet cord because I like the internet very much. The printer cord will have to go elsewhere, which is why he should have asked someone where an extra port was. But no, I’ll take care of it. Jackass.

My meeting was short and lame, though I handled it with polite grace. I’m quite good at faking it sometimes, and it really wasn’t anyone’s fault. But then I had an experiment to attend – one we’d messed up on our first try. I was seething about that too. I knew there was a problem but I didn’t want to create conflict with that particular man. We’ve argued with narrowed-eyes since I interviewed and I’m just too tired to do it anymore. He never sees my point and I’m not always right, so I just play my polite role and stay silent unless I'm positive there's a problem (though I did contribute to the first experiment - I did correct several errors and offer good advice. But on one particular issue, I wondered about something and stay silent because I wasn't absolutely sure). And he screwed up. So I had to come in again and sit for hours. So I was frustrated with him and disappointed in myself.

But then the experiment ended – after several glitches and with much conversation among up to 10 doctors (PhD and MD) – and the patient sat down to discuss his results. I watched him get good news and thought about how impossibly lovely it was that I played a role in allowing said news to be delivered.

I believe in the research I do. I think it has clinical relevance and can improve patient care. I have the skills and temperament to do the work. I just need to show up and do it.

Which now seems a good deal more important than it did before.

Then again, it's not the first time I've had similar epiphanies.


Anonymous said...

i am sorry thoings are so hard. i went through a very similar depression phase. i think TV goes along with it almost always!

anyway, i hope that things get better, and i pray that things get better.

know that its not your fault that you dont want to go to work sometimes, the times when you absoluetly can't are more obvious that the times when you don't want to. its not your fault that you dont want to.

that doesnt mean don't go with the epiphany and not work, gp when you can! i guess just know that i'm here and you can always talk when needed. i know that people asking you to talk doesn't help. but when you feel like it, i'm here.

Lucy said...

You know I can empathise. *hugs*
I hope the epiphany helps!

MapleMama said...

It can be so difficult to participate in a workplace where you don't want to be. I'm sorry you are still struggling with that.

I AM pleased to read you were able to deliver good news to a patient. Finding reward and worth in our work can bring back focus - at least for a little while.

Katie - I have faith that you will find the path that was meant for you. You have an incredible capacity for genuine introspection and articulate your thoughts so clearly. In reading your next post - I see you are considering a quick meeting with a counselor. This might be a great opportunity to have someone help frame all of your concerns and thoughts and assist you in making a plan for your future. I wish you well.


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