Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Are We Having Fun Yet?

The last few weeks have been rough. Not so much in terms of work, although I have been getting less sleep than I need and haven't been writing and, having finished the Temeraire series, also not reading. Mostly, I've been finding myself staying up late doing work alone and being correspondingly miserable. Around the middle of last week I realized that the lack of contact with people who give a damn about me when I'm not useful was driving me stir-crazy and I set up various social engagements for the weekend: Skyping with a friend who is abroad, making dinner with the people I was closest with in freshman year, lunch at home on Memorial Day.

3005 - Childish Gambino

The concept of delayed gratification has been hugely important in how I live my life. Although I've gradually become more relaxed about work, I still prefer to left-justify i.e. start things as soon as possible and give myself plenty of time to finish the work I need to do. Friday nights are not always the most productive, but I do try to get at least some low-level assignments done before the weekend properly starts.

Friday evening I ran into a friend with whom I haven't really talked in a while as we walking by the lake, coincidentally within earshot of the frat parties that were just getting started. Both of us could fairly be called workaholics, and we discussed our growing feelings of disillusionment, futility, etc. That is to say, we asked ourselves and one another: why are we working so hard? We're doing fine. If we put in less effort we'd still get decent grades, and employers don't actually care that much. We'd both like to go to grad school at some point, but still--we could be firing on fewer cylinders and still get where we want to go. Between us we'd been to maybe 10 parties in college, ever. Who has time for that?

This year, I took four engineering classes in both fall and winter. Next year, I need four classes total to finish my major. I had reasons for this and I'm glad I did it this way because now I have lots of time to put into staffing and extracurriculars, but even though I'm feeling content now, there have been many moments of misery, exhaustion, and emptiness of the soul in the past year. Nothing really bad has happened in my life: all my sadness has stemmed from working to exhaustion and working to the exclusion of doing things that make me happy. Also politics, but that's a different story.

Since the end of winter quarter I've been sorting through ideas of work-life balance and how to be happy while working hard. I call myself, and other people call me, a workaholic--and yes, that's somewhat self-congratulatory--but what happens is that during breaks, I crash, do nothing but sleep and eat and read, and frequently get up after noon. That's not sustainable.

On the other hand--I keep coming back to what I want to say to my residents. What is the takeaway? Because, after all the angst and Angst I had early in my undergrad career over whether or not I'd ever become the person I want to be, I am on my way there. I was terrified of turning out to be not as smart as people think I am, and while impostor syndrome is probably chronic, I am proud of my work and do know some things. Would I be as confident in my abilities if I had bsed my way through my undergrad classes?

I have a hard time being content with "good enough," although I'm working on my perfectionist tendencies. But something I do get is the idea of opportunity cost, and sometimes the extra hour spent working an assignment over one more time just isn't worth it.

Realistically, I am not going to chill. The past two quarters were the most academically challenging I've had and I got through them, so I don't see myself lowering my academic standards. On the other hand, I have a lot more flexibility next year so I may just take an easier course load. There's more to life than school, and a whole lot of life has passed me by while I've been inside hitting the books.

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