Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Failing my Sabbatical

Let me say first off, that I am happier now than I have been in about 4 years. Living under one roof with the whole family has made life so wonderful and rich. Moreover, we love our Au Pair who adds a special element to our home, not the least of which is another adult family member who is very engaging at mealtimes. Her social life is fun and fascinating to spectate. Lastly, having only one thing to do every day- under my control- is so nice compared to being shot-gunned by the needs of students, colleagues, committees and administration. I put in 10 hour days often, but it feels great because they are so quiet! See here.

My sabbatical is turning out to be very spiritual, and I am discovering many things about myself, primarily because I have been failing in the lab.

I am not succeeding at my technique. While it is a relatively difficult technique (e-mail if you want details), I have done it well under other circumstances. In fact I spent 6 years doing it getting my Ph.D. I had advertised myself as someone who could do this, so the fact that I am not succeeding in getting it to work is very embarrassing. I was ashamed (hence my silence here) to have had 5 months with no data.

Spiritual revelation number 1. I am entirely motivated by admiration. Everything that I felt bad about in the past 5 months had something to do with what someone else thought of me, how I had disappointed them.

To make matters worse, I was very careful in my troubleshooting, and can conclusively determine that what is wrong has simply to do with me, not solutions, not prep. It had to do with my cognitive capabilities, and "touch". I was/am feeling pretty untalented and my "voices of failure" have come roaring back up to greet me.

I am very tenacious, so when I'm not getting things to work, I throw myself at troubleshooting and trying harder. This is at the neglect of other things. I'm not reading the background papers and not writing the manuscripts I had planned to. Now I am terrified of returning with nothing- absolutely nothing- to show for my sabbatical. Moreover, I feel a repetitive stress injury coming on.

The director of the institute asked for my CV several months ago. He said, OH! You're the one I've heard about. I heard that you can (technique that I've been struggling with) and that you love teaching undergrads. So I sent him my CV with a bunch of "in preparation" papers on it. I imagine that it has filtered back to him that I might not be able to perform the technique after all. Perhaps I've blown my chances to get hired here in some form of faculty position.

Spiritual revelation number 2. Trust. I have been a person of faith for a long time. My faith in an active prayer-answering God has consistently been there, as long as the payers are for something important, like healing of sick people, etc. I had let go of the idea of a God who directs the paths of ordinary individuals, and still feel a little skittish about it. But I am ready to start believing that things happen for a reason, and that there is meaning in God's timing, at least for me.

Just this week I think I have solved a major part of my problem, and it has to do with my tenacity (cognitive rigidity, you say?). When I wasn't getting it to work, I did it more and harder for longer. In actuality I needed to pick up and move and look for a better circumstance. I am just starting to see success in the lab, but a lot of time has been wasted (however, I am trusting).

Spiritual revelation number 3: Maybe success as a scientist isn't the end-all-be-all of my happiness. See paragraph one. :)


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