My thesis project is not going well. I’m not exactly acing my classes either, and I can barely muster up enough energy to teach my labs with any semblance of enthusiasm by the end of the week. I’ve also been a really crummy wife lately – 10-12 hour days take their toll, and by the time I get home I’m tired and on-edge. And then, to top it off, I feel like a wimp for being tired after a 10 hour day. Oh lordy…
What led me to these dreary thoughts on such a fine, sunny day? Long story short, I met with my advisor this morning. He was understandably irritated because it’s a waste of his time to meet when I don’t have any results, and I was irritated because, well, I don’t have any results and I feel like a total loser. I left the meeting pretty beat down, and struggled to hold in tears on my walk to the cafeteria. Lunch turned into a crying-over-my-pizza affair, and I found myself wishing I could just quit this whole damn grad school business. I’m so sick of doing things that I’m bad at. Seriously, what possessed me to think getting a grad degree in a totally different field from my undergrad was a good idea?!?
However, as I sat there, awkwardly sobbing into my *delicious* balsamic-fig pizza, I had a thought. Sure, one way to look at it is that I want to do things I’m good at. Who wouldn’t – it seems like the sensible thing to do after all. However, it’s not actually that I’m *horrible* at the things I’m doing. The things I feel like I’m “bad” at are actually just things that are challenging for me. Let’s face it, I tend to stick to things I’m good at, and I judge myself very harshly when I struggle. When I look at the things I’m “bad” at as just things that merely require more effort than usual, the choices I’ve made look a lot less idiotic. Do I really want to just go skipping off down the easy path, or do I want the experience of facing these challenges?
I could take the easy path – only do things I’m good at, and eventually I’d just be really good at those things. I could be the Feynman of eating chocolate, for example 😀 But what would I gain from that choice? Being recognized as a ‘natural’ is lovely and all, but there’s no realistic path that won’t require at least some work to truly excel.
In the path that I have chosen, it feels like I’ve been hiking uphill (while occasionally being pelted with flaming pinecones) for a year and a half. Sometimes I wonder if I should have stuck with straight biomechanics, stayed in my undergrad lab, and spent my first year of marriage blissfully unaware of the upheaval that the combination of a new town, complete lack of friends, and playing catch-up in a different field can wreak on a relationship. Ah, that sounds luxurious!!
However, when I take some time to dry my tears and take some deep breaths, I can see that, in spite of the troubles, I have actually gained an incredible amount of knowledge, skills, and confidence in the last 14 months. I am an infinitely better programmer (and realize much better exactly how much more I can still improve!), I’ve gained a stronger basis in math and modeling – which will be useful in any field, I’ve become much better versed in the software and general engineering knowledge that I’ve been teaching, and I’ve gotten a better idea of what I do, and don’t, want to do with my life. Perhaps most importantly, I’m remembering how to fight tooth and nail for what I want and I’m learning exactly how tough it can be to keep up that fight. There are many tough paths in life, and I hope that traversing this particular path will prepare me for the inevitable battles ahead.