Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A clearer explanation

I've been pondering my earlier post, and I think I know what I am feeling: I hate doing things that I'm not good at. Actually, let's take that even a step further: I hate doing things that I am not the best at. This goes way way back in my childhood. I played sports, but I was never any good at them. Therefore, once sports stopped being fun and became competitive, I quit (that, and being catcher on my softball team made me claustrophobic).

On the other hand, I liked music, but I never loved it. However, I was good at it. So, even though I didn't like it, I took private lessons and did solo & ensemble contests and whatever else went along with it. I finally quit playing the flute in college, after private lessons and recitals and everything else got so stressful. I liked playing in the band--I never wanted anything more than that. But I did it because people said I was good at it.

I feel like I am not good at my PhD. I've felt this way since I started in Dr. B's lab. I was so encouraged at science and research throughout high school and college. That's why I kept with it--I got good grades, I had teachers and professors who nurtured my interest and gave me positive feedback, and I had a mentor in my first bench research experience that made me feel like I could do anything.

So, needing to be the best at what I was good at (boy, how things change), I decided to do both an MD and a PhD to give me the best edge in science. The MD, as I've mentioned before, was more of an afterthought.

Since coming into this lab, all I've gotten is negativity. It has gotten better in recent months (or maybe it's stayed the same, and I've changed). But all of the negative feedback has really made me question why I am doing this. It doesn't matter that everyone I know is getting the same kind of feedback, that I'm not the only one struggling. It means I'm not good at it. And that makes me want to give it up and go back to something I am good at.

And that is clinical work. My clinical mentor is the polar opposite of my lab mentor. Despite my feelings of inadequacy, all I've ever gotten from my clinical mentor is positive feedback and encouragement. He reminds me a lot of the first research mentor I had in that sense. He makes me feel like I am good at something. And that makes me want to work so much harder.

That's really it. I've never been one that is encouraged by failure--it doesn't make me want to try harder the next time. It disparages me. It makes me want to go back to something I am good at. Maybe that's weak, but that's me. I hate conflict. As long as there is at least one thing in my life that I think I am still good at, I am willing to let go of the things I'm not.

I look back at what I've enjoyed in life. That's the theme: doing things for which I am appreciated, recognized, and encouraged. I don't need a parade; it's as simple as being labeled a helpful volunteer at the therapeutic riding program (which I miss desperately), or having a patient say they really enjoyed having their appointment with me that day, or having someone go through my photos and telling me I took some nice ones. It's just positive encouragement--that's all I need.

So I guess my issue is this: since having the baby, I feel even less good at lab that I did before, if that's possible. And I haven't gotten any positive encouragement, either from experiments working or from something as simple as having my boss tell me to "hang in there." That's all I need to hear. Just tell me to keep trying, and I will. But hearing things like, "why isn't this working? It used to work. What did you do?" over and over doesn't help. I don't care if that's how he treats everyone else. That's not what I need.

And I feel so lost as a mom too. Now that, I know, comes with the territory, and it concerns me a little less. But still, afternoons like today, when she just cries so shrilly and nothing I do makes it stop, make me feel useless. Ultimately, her gas (or whatever else it was) passes, and she smiles and coos at me whenever I look her way. That makes it worth it. For all those clueless moments, I do get some encouragement when she smiles for me.

So for as much as having Sophie has messed with my career goals, I feel like ultimately she is so much more important that having to spend a few more months in lab. And I do resent having to be the one to stay home all the time, but even that feeling fades. For now, Tim's the breadwinner, and he needs to do everything in his power to keep work happy. Maybe someday one or both of us can work part time. But for now we need to take what we are given.

And really, for as tough as lab has been, there is so much else in my life that I am thankful for. Sure, there are periods of stress--for instance, I hope to never have to go through the misery of selling a house again--but we are so blessed in so many other ways. If getting through lab is the toughest thing in my life, I'd say I'm doing ok.

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