Thursday, August 09, 2012

mildly relevant: this guy must have read my mind.

from: Work Less to Work Better: My Experiments with Shutdown Routines @ studyhacks:
This strategy worked fine for a while, keeping me engaged and happy, but then, in April, 2009, things took a turn toward the difficult. It was during this month that I accepted a postdoc position that would start in September.  This meant that I had to defend my thesis over the summer. [1] Suddenly the allure of tackling all new results began to wane.

Here’s a scenario that became common:

  • I would be working during the day on an important proof.
  • At some point in the late afternoon I would find a flaw.
  • A helpful voice in my head would point out that my whole future depended on finding a fix — without a fix, it argued, the thesis would crumble, I would be kicked out of graduate school and end up homeless, likely dying in a soup kitchen knife fight.
patching proofs is no stress-free matter;
it's nice to know that somebody else had the same weird fears that i did! (-:

there's one more bullet point, though:
  • After heading home, I would continue, obsessively, seeking a fix — ruining any chance at relaxation that night.
this reminds me of a strategy that is common among some of my peers, many of whom do not know each other:

in the afternoon/evening, they work until they have a viable idea for the next day.
satisfied by this, they retire for the evening.
(actually, i do the same thing.)

i used to think that this was cowardice, that we should always confront our fears head on and fight the struggle, you know? but then, getting older and having had to become more responsible -- e.g. giving 9am and 11am lectures on MWF -- i realised that i work better with adequate sleep.

so if this coping mechanism means that i'm better rested and more mentally ready to tackle maths, the next day, then that trumps the bravado of youth!

[1] when the advisor passed away, i became numb for a while .. but it was always fixed in my mind that i should finish my thesis (especially from those last days, when he approved of the idea and told me to go ahead with it).

this might be the kind of bravado that one can afford in retrospect, but there seemed no other reasonable option: job or no job, i was going to finish this thing, because the advisor probably would have wanted it so. it therefore threw me for a loop when i received a telephone call one day with a postdoc offer.

i had theretofore never really thought about the future.  in some sense, i was never really afraid or worried about jobs, in the usual sense. i was too numb to care: the advisor was gone and very little seemed to matter anymore ..
.. those things said, i probably should have talked to somebody at the time. i should probably talk to someone now; i don't know. those wounds have scarred over, by now, and i think i'm well enough these days.

there's a school of thought in which you should only follow advice from successful people, but let me say: having done the opposite and not sought help, i can honestly say that i'm a worse, more empty person than perhaps i could have been (or can be). so if you feel like the world is coming down, then trust me: go ahead and talk to someone, right away. if you can become better, then what is the harm in trying?.. or as the old saying goes: hell is the person that you will be, meeting the person that you could have become.

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