I mostly miss my coping mechanism

It has been nearly a year since I left academia and joined a company. The shiny novelty about having a new job with new and different rules and new people has passed a little and I'm starting to feel comfortable in my new role. Before leaving academia I thought what I would miss the most would be recording from cells or generating data myself. And when I think about it I kind of miss the excitement of doing experiments, but I don't really miss the anxiety about whether I will be able to interpret my data, whether my data will look nice and whether it will be publishable. I don't miss hours of struggling to record form a cell only to bump against my table and loose my cell. I don't miss changing animal cages.

However, what I do miss is my coping mechanism. When I was doing my PhD, I would imagine what my defense day would look like. I would imagine how I would feel when my PhD was done and I would hold the book in my hand. I would imagine how incredibly happy I would be when a publication would be accepted.

During my post-doc, I would imagine what I would feel like having gotten a fellowship or a grant. I imagined how people would congratulate me and tell me I had deserved this after all my hard work. I would imagine how - further in the future - I would maybe become a full professor, which in my homecountry is accompanied by having a whole day of festivities including giving your inaugural lecture in front of the whole university. I would imagine how awesome that would be. On crappy days I had this mantra in my head and I would repeat "keep your eyes on the prize" over and over to keep writing, experimenting and analyzing data.

In my new job, the future is much less clear. There is not one path, but there are many paths one can take. There's less need for a coping mechanism because I feel much more at ease here, but at the same time I notice that I used these fantasies about the future as my motivation to get work done.

I guess I may need new incentives and I don't know what those are yet.

7 responses so far

  • jh says:

    In most jobs you would have annual goals. In good places you would also be able to shape or suggest own goals. Maybe think about something that would be really exciting for you or help you career-wise, and put it forwards as an annual goal?

    • babyattachmode says:

      Yes that is surely the case where I am, but it's hard to already define these goals for personal development because I'm still learning what all the options are. But you're right that there will be something different to replace my dreams about the future!

  • Zuska says:

    I experienced something similar when I left my postdoc for industry - it was disorienting, even distressing not to have a defined and linear career path. And it was like missing the caffeine even when I'd sworn it off knowing it wasn't good for me. That always-promise of yet another Next Big Reward (experiment, thesis, degree, postdoc, paper, professor, grant, tenure, BSD-hood) was so alluring. Fahgettaboutit, Marines - the few, the proud, they are the tenured!

    Over time I stopped looking for a new target for my laser focus on The One True Path To Enlightenment. It had gotten fuzzy anyway. I enjoyed my work, I liked my colleagues, and at the end of the day I went home. I started gardening, I began reading novels again, Mr. Z and I went for bike rides and explored our new city. It was pretty cool.

    When I went back to academia (as an administrator) all the bad habits came back, my life outside work disappeared. In a professional development program I was asked to complete an exercise: what did I want my life to look like in 5 years? 10 years? 20 years? 40 years? What did I want people to say about me after I died? That was where I first defined for myself that gardening was important to me, and that I wanted people to say I had left my patch of world more beautiful than I'd found it. It was where I realized that my short-term focus on reaching the next career stepping stone, whatever I'd defined that as, was not going to get me where I wanted to be in 40 years, or what I wanted people to say of me when I was gone.

    Of course then work was taken from me, not by my choice, so it's easy for me to preach that work should not be a central focus of life/identity...

    • babyattachmode says:

      Thanks for your comment! Nice to hear that you recognize the feeling. I'm figuring out what my drives are and you're absolutely right that they don't need to be work related.

  • jh says:

    Oh yeah I forgot about that and you are totally right: stuff outside of work can be as exciting as anything and really enrich your life. In this way work becomes just one (equal) aspect out of many in your life.

    During my PhD, when things weren't going so good, I started to get a strong desire to get out of the lab. So I started doing quite a lot of sports (different kinds also). The feeling that gave me was really awesome, and I discovered aspects of me that I hadn't known so far.

  • […] to take steps to advance on your path. When work was kind of quiet over the summer, I realized that I missed knowing what my ultimate goal would be. I missed that star on the horizon that I could look at to keep me going when things get tough […]

Leave a Reply