28 March, 2015

bad duck

4 o'clock yesterday afternoon found me face down on a massage table, breathing deeply for what felt like the first time all week. ah, the week! what a week it was! aside from maintaining several smaller ongoing projects, i had two big'uns to contend with - one, an eye-rollingly pointless exercise, the other, a fascinating research report - the very type of thing that made me want to be an urban planner in the first place. both were due on friday and both stressed me to the hilt. the former, because it needed to be done, and the latter, because i wanted to impress. i came in early, took a short lunch (and only because my adorable coworkers bj and bta have now made it a daily tradition to come eat at my desk and dissect topics of import and complexity), and worked late every single day, feeling that ball of tightness just below my xiphoid process that prevented me from breathing fully.

thursday night i went out for dinner with a work friend because i felt a deep need to eat my stress in the form of steak. i had a misguided notion that i was over the hump and that friday would be smooth sailing. nope. a last minute mandated-from-the-top personnel switch in my document erupted on friday morning as a serious threat to the budget of the entire proposal (no, you don't need to understand any of this, and yes, it is as boring as it sounds). unfortunately, that morning the supreme boss was nowhere to be found, the boss-boss was away on vacation, and the coworker/mentor in charge of the budget was at that moment driving 3 hours to attend a family funeral. the onus was on me to make a decision that i was absolutely in no way capable of making. i think i may have been a little pasty-faced because when the supreme boss did make it in, she took one look at me and told me to breathe. then she promptly solved the problem and we were able to send the proposal off to the printers with time to spare.

this brings me back to the interesting research project. i dug. i wrote. i thought. i fought word* on lay-out step by step (a sort of trench warfare, with casualties, blood spilled, very few gains to speak of, and a very high chance of developing PTSD) and finally sent it off to a peer reviewer thursday night. friday morning, after putting the proposal to bed, i opened up the reviewed draft and faced a veritable sea of blue track changes. gulp.

ok, let's sidetrack for a moment here, and because this is my blog i will fight the urge to apologise for its  navel-gazing nature. this last year has been a continuation of the frustration that began in grad school. i went from being someone comfortable with her skills and knowledge to someone feeling cast adrift. school was supposed to prepare me for the work force; it did no such thing. the year working has regularly made me feel stupid, slow, and unable to grasp what, i suspect, might be rather simple concepts. despite the management's words of praise at my performance (boy, they must have exceedingly low expectations), i feel like a bit of a failure - picking my nose, drooling a little, and gazing with blank befuddlement at the world of urban planning. there are two things that have kept my ego for utter despair - one is my people skills and the fact that people seem to not only like me, but actually respond to me and do what i ask. the other is my writing. having been told i was one of the top writers at the group was a salve for my wounds and i have held that assessment close to my heart in moments of turmoil: i may be an utter dolt, doofus, and dummy, but damnit! i can write!

facing that document full of edits and additions (by the company's premier writer, no less) was a punch in the gut. it hurt. and when i went over his edits, i found them so obvious and beautifully laid out that i deflated. i wanted this to be something i was proud of, instead i felt smacked down. i felt like the one thing i had going for me was shown up for the sham that it was. oh, granted - i had never written this type of document before, and the only template i had been given was much more technical in nature. granted, this was my very first attempt. but, logically or not, i wanted to be that unknown schmuck who shows up at the olympics and wins a gold medal out of the blue. realistic? oh sure!

i made my peace with it, i think. the edits made the piece flow better, added more flavour, not to mention his superior knowledge of the area in question from an urban planning perspective. overall, i think they weren't as ego-shatteringly extensive as they seemed at first glance. still, as i breathed on the massage table and had my tension knots worked out** i heard my work phone make that deceivingly pretty sound that announced incoming emails, and although i managed to breathe through it, the first thing i did when i got off the table was check my inbox - supreme boss liked the draft, and she doesn't throw praise around carelessly. despite knowing that it wasn't ALL my work, there was a feeling of some satisfaction.

so perhaps i needed to be taken down a notch. perhaps it is necessary to remember that while i may be good there are others better (oh god, how much of an asshole that sentence makes me sound!). perhaps i need to chill the fuck out and make my expectations for myself a trifle more realistic. lessons learned.

*am i the only one stumped why a program that has been around as long as word continues to exhibit the sort of inexcusable glitches one would expect of an untested newbie? microsoft, you suck!

**you don't HAVE knots, my massage therapist said, you ARE one big knot!


Zhoen said...

Yes, chill the fuck out. First year in a job, pfft. Sounds like you are doing very well indeed, but if it wasn't a job worth doing - you wouldn't have a lot more to learn.

Forward in all directions!

Geneviève Goggin said...

It's hard to enjoy the process of learning to be excellent at your work. And then when it becomes second nature you yearn for the days when you were learning so much and feeling that exhilaration of not being totally sure if everything (cuz that's how we remember it all in hindsight). That's how our silly brains seem to work. Breathe, meditate, get your friends to tell you how awesome you are...whatever it takes. Keep on trucking, girl!

Tom said...

Actually A.A. (Awesome Agnieszka), real life in the workplace is rarely as one expects from school/college/whatever. What is good to see here is not the disappointment or the apparent let down, those are transitory anyway, but the effort, the desire and the will. They are important. You gave it your best shot. Good! It took one of the top writers at the group to improve on what you had said. That's a compliment!

You're not an utter dolt, doofus or dummy. If you were you wouldn't be where you are today. So stop beating up on yourself! If there are lessons to be learned, you will learn them. Of that I have no doubt.

I remember the first scientific report I wrote, of which I was immensely proud. Oh dear! Oh dear! But I learned a lot from the maulling it received. And the pain passes.

Cthulku said...

We've spoken about the likely expectation around you in your job, so I won't go there. I'd be repeating Zhoen anyway. The thing to keep in mind is that the group in which you're working will let you know if they think that you're not performing as well as they like. They haven't yet, have they?

Trust them. They know their stuff, and they're invested in your (and by extension the group's) improvement. They sound like a good group, and will give timely and useful feedback if / when warranted. You're good, but no matter how good you may be, you're still green, and they know that. Sometimes you'll have to stretch yourself (a bit or a lot), and it may go well or ill.

I haven't had coffee yet, so I'm not sure what my point was. Other than "this is normal for a new professional; let it motivate you, but don't let it get to you."