The Wall of Fail Is Built of Cookies
I may have gone overboard on the cookies.
So later this morning, another grad student in the lab is going to have her thesis defense seminar and the lab decided to get the refreshments for her. I got tasked with getting the cookies. But when I got to the grocery store last night, for some reason, I got completely overwhelmed with the choices even though it was only a few days ago I went there to get cookies for the Nanowrimo kick-off party. I kept thinking that no matter what I chose, someone was going to hate my choice in cookies. Because some academics can be a little strange and quite blunt when they encounter something they don’t like.
I ended up getting a lot of cookies. There may be ten different varieties. Or eleven. Or twelve. I’ve lost track.
If you’ve been following my Twitter stream with any regularity, you would have noticed that lately, I’ve been attending a lot of defense seminars. And frankly, it’s getting a little depressing watching all of your friends graduate while you’re stuck doing the same-old same-old. It’s one of those moments when you wonder why the hell you’re doing any of this at all. When I was much younger, I thought I’d have a PhD by the time as I was 25. Well, that birthday has come and gone. I spent my twenty-fifth birthday being rather depressed about my prospects, actually. I wrote little in the blog that year and the only bright thing in my life, it seemed at the time, was writing the Nanowrimo novel. Thirty will inevitably come and go as well, so maybe I’ll have to revise my goal to graduating before I’m 35.
It’s extra depressing when I realize that the person having her defense today will have obtained three degrees the entire time I’ve been here.
Standing in that cookie aisle, everything sort of just crashed into me. I mean, what’s the point of doing all of this when in the end, all you’ll get is a bit of paper that nobody gives a damn about anyway? It won’t guarantee you a job. And what’s the point of staying in lab over the weekend and overnight when all you have to show for it on Monday morning is a failed experiment? I’ve had many, many failed experiments and there are times when I wonder if I’m working hard enough, if I’m even remotely competent in my job, or maybe if I just had the very bad luck of choosing a project that will never yield easy, simple answers–even if ten lab teams were working on it night and day.
Some people like to describe themselves as life-long students because they’re always eager to learn something new. I’m all for learning. I know that for everything that I do know, there are a kazillion things that I don’t know. But I don’t want to be known as a perpetual student. It will be as if I’ll never grow up–with none of the positive and all the negative connotations that go with it: irresponsibility, ignorance, immaturity. I want to be good at something, but realistically, all I can hope for is mediocrity. (Sometimes, I don’t think I’m all that good with writing, either. Especially while I’m looking at all the rejections I’ve gotten.) And I will have spent most of my life doing absolutely nothing that will have any significant impact on anyone.
Anyways, back to cookies. Even though some people tell me I’m good at cooking, I’m not. I think they just say that in an attempt to make me feel good. I don’t have enough chances to practice. And I’m pretty much a failure at making cookies as any efforts on my part have resulted in burnt smudges. Although I suppose one could make the argument that it wasn’t a complete failure. I didn’t set my apartment on fire. As for the grad student who’s getting her third degree? She’s won stuff for cookies and cakes that she’s entered at baking contests. Another prof once remarked, she might as well get another degree for baking.
I guess what really annoys me is that I keep on trying things and nothing ever works or ever comes to fruition. For other people, it’s easy and effortless. And it just makes me feel that whatever I do, it’s going to be wrong. Maybe I should just give up and give my finger to the world. I’ll do it by writing the rest of my dissertation as if I was Hunter S. Thompson on cookies*. It’s not like anyone’s going to read it anyway.
*Not acid. That would be too easy.
“I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed. ” – Michael Jordan.
I try to remember that quote when I’m having problems and feel like a failure. I interpret it as learning from the failures. I’ve been feeling like a failure lately and have to remind myself that I’m not; it just takes a while to understand things. And once I learn, I can apply my failures to my life as lessons.
I actually understand the not wanting to be a professional student. That’s why I have yet to get my master’s degree.
Not having that PhD yet isn’t a failure. You will get it. And once you do, all those failures will be worth it. Who knows, maybe you have stumbles across something Miss Three Degrees maybe never have with her not having troubles.
I have the terminal degree and a job, and still some days I wonder what on earth I’m doing and whether I’m even competent. (I like to think, in brighter moods, that that’s one of the curses of actually BEING a competent person: you constantly question yourself while the people who aren’t that good, actually, float along happily through life.)
I also have big issues with the not-being-a-real-grownup thing, even moreso now that I “hear” politicians in my state who are running for office “telling” me that I am less competent and qualified than a comparable woman who has raised children, because of the sole fact of her having raised children. (Scare quotes are because I realize a big part of my interpretation is my own issues talking).
I don’t know what to say, other than to observe you’re not the only one who feels the way you do.
One thing’s for sure. You’re doing a lot of good writing here lately.