Category Archives: Career

Pressure

There are times in each of our lives where we are literally moving/ stumbling/ lurching from one moment to the next without space or pause to catch our breath. It is with some great relief that I sit here now on the other side of one of these such episodes. I am currently basking in the lightness of my shoulders which had been tightly straining towards my ears, and the ease with which sleep now comes.

Within in a very small window of time my dear husband and I moved house, he broke his arm the very week before the move, I started a new job and I had a conference to prepare two talks for. I began walking into the next thing that was immediately in front of me. Nothing else could possibly fit.

It was during this incredible period of flux that for the first time in my life I arrived at a department presentation run through for the conference entirely unprepared. That week I had kicked goals in my new job and moved house… and had done so at the expense of my papers. As I listened to other people share their work, the lack in mine became amplified. As I sped through my slides and talked about what I was going to say, I was struck by how much work actually sat before me. I sat through the feedback feeling despondent and when my boss asked me to stop by her office as I was racing out the door to pick my parents up from the airport… Well I had to stop, message my folks and let them know I’d be late and sit with my boss. There is only space for this thing that is in front of me right now.

The talks became my thing in front of me for the next 7 days. Over Easter I sat from breakfast to bedtime in front of my computer re- running analyses on my data to meet the aforementioned feedback and crafting my slides. Then I flew to where the conference was and skyped my boss, this time only details needed modifying. A colleague poured over them both with me and our Head of Department as well because I forgot to mention, this forum is the most important one in my field and it’s the first time my data is being presented. For me professionally, it’s kind of a big deal.

Three sleepless nights in Adelaide. Away from my husband who is in our new home, surrounded by boxes with his broken arm. All consumed by these talks. They’re ready but I still sit in the hotel bar and order dessert for dinner with a side of wine while I continue to tweak and fuss. I’m ready, it’s the eleventh hour but I am bloody ready. Sleep still doesn’t come.

Because sleep was an elusive beast I took my sweet time getting ready the day of my talks. I dressed in yellow because, well because yellow! I strolled along slowly looking for a good place to get coffee and I rolled into the conference feeling a reasonable amount of decent. My talks went well and were well received. I’m chuffed because I got to crack an opening joke that scored a laugh when the tech failed at the start of my first of two consecutive presentations.

Suddenly there is space to gather myself, check that I  am still as I should be, all my parts are here. I can breath and make space for others again. My world has opened up once more. I am more, not less, engaged in my work. I am eager to claim the rain-checks I’ve collected with our families and friends and see my sisters squishy bambinos because they grow so darn fast!

I think periods such as this, where you can only focus on this most pressing thing right here in front of you, are important. For me at least, there was great benefit in being capable of only dealing with the next most pressing thing because that pressure meant that I was immersed in what I was doing, whether that was moving house or sitting in Emergency (twice) with my dear husband, figuring out my new role at work and how to juggle it with my existing one, or the brief moments I was able to take with friends, or my presentations. I was entirely immersed in that moment. That immersion created a depth and state of flow unlike my common every day experience. This period of respite from that is full of inspiration drawn from that immersion and a heightened level of appreciation for the people I love.

Pressure, not a bad thing but definitely not a sustainable thing. I am gratefully enriched by the flux of recent weeks and ready for some quiet steady time to make the most of what I have managed to take away from it.

“When we long for life without difficulties, remind us that oaks grow strong in contrary winds and diamonds are made under pressure.” ~ Peter Marshall

Game changer

The primary aspect of my work is WRITING and yet it is the last thing that I want to do for work. There are emails to be checked, people to call, the internet just screams to be looked at. Facebook and realestate.com have so many shiny things for me to view and there are endless productivity blogs to help me while away hours and hours of time. And yet, I say that I love my job. I get to work with kids to trial a new intervention technique to see if it improves their ability to do the things they want and need to do. I get to test a scientific theory. But for what purpose? To publish the damn thing. To write about it, communicate it and get other people doing it if it works, or stop them from wasting their time if it doesn’t.

Writing. It is the center most important focus of the area that I have chosen and yet I procrastinate expertly to avoid doing it. The irony is that I love to write. I write a blog and I so love doing it. Maybe because I can type out a finished piece in a few hours and it’s done. Out there for others to read and already published to boot. It’s not going to change any lives the way my scientific work potentially could, but it is something I have done. Something I have completed and shared, it is progress. An achievement.

The science work writing that I do is a terribly tedious past time. I have to fact check and cross-reference every thought. It is the work supporting a statement that gets in my way. I write, I think I am finished… then I have to check through all the comments that I made to myself about the detail work that remains. The writing, even the editing was enjoyable. The details of referencing, checking for more supporting or contradicting literature, tying everything together is where I come undone. Then it takes me forever, I procrastinate for months over the smallest details and I run out of puff.

It is these important mechanics that are part of the polishing. If I can just find my way clear to pushing through with these small pieces of my story, of my message, then I will be done and I can submit for publication. Then I start to progress the part of my work where the big stuff happens. The kudos is in the publishing. It’s in the opportunities that come with many publications. The focus in research is on team members who are proven writers. These are the folk who are going to take important work and share it with the audience of clinicians, doctors, informed service recipients and share it with the people who will benefit most from it. This can only happen when it is accessible. This can only happen when it is not only written up, but published- online or in a paper journal, but searchable.

I need to bring my focus back to this point: writing is the core of my work. The focus is on scientific exploration of a theory, but the recruiting, the assessing, the hours and hours and hours of time families contribute and that I have committed mean nothing if it is not communicated. The growing story around my research area is strengthened by every piece of work that I could conceivably contribute. My voice and knowledge will add to the work begun by only a few so far and will add to the small but growing momentum there. It is emerging PUBLISHED evidence that will cause the entire world to sit up and pay attention, to think about tackling problems with a new perspective in mind. Then all the time and effort invested by families, the research team and myself will be worthwhile.

So I have to remind myself- keep up with recruitment, really start scoring those measures… but do not lose sight of the fact that you have a responsibility to yourself and the people who have also invested large amounts of time in this work, to write. You have to share what you are learning. You have to generate interest and enthusiasm for the knowledge coming out of this project. It is the sharing that validates. It is the sharing that brings future opportunities and fortifies your position as a serious candidate in future works. Your practical skill set alone is not enough in the world of research. To make the biggest impact, you have to be what you have always wanted to be- a writer, first and foremost.

“I love being a writer. What I can’t stand is the paperwork.” ~Peter De Vries

The power of a word

There you are, standing in front of the people you only hear about, whose names you see in publications, guru’s in your field… The presentation you have worked and re-worked ready to go, the speakers before you were confident and passionate. Now a cold sweat washes over you. You think to smile, press the button and talk S-L-O-W-L-Y but that is all you have, those three thoughts.

And then you are done, you smile wanly and make your way back to your panel chair. The supportive comments from your co-presenters are very positive, but surely they are just saying it because you all hope to work together and that will require a level of kindness. You are left not really knowing the quality of your presentation or how well your message was received. You are left trying not to pick apart your performance because you really were not in the moment but rather the process and they look very different.

Then the woman who you trust most to provide honest feedback sits next to you and tells you it was great, that you were poised and measured and while you didn’t have very much to say, you said it beautifully and linked it in very well. You know this is a woman who does not worry about your feelings when she gives you feedback. She cares most about presenting information in the most honest light. So you feel successful, over joyed, delighted! You did great! And all of a sudden this presentation seems very much like any other you have given. This was a success and so you now have a win in your memory banks to allay the fear that will try to seep into your consciousness before the next public sharing of your work.

Words. They can allay fears, celebrate successes, point out flaws. They can inspire, move to action and completely defeat you. In my experience the defeat typically comes when you are not guarding your own words. But inspiration and calls to action can come from any where!

Passion, love, inspiration…

I remember a dear friend telling me that I was meant for more. I believed that, but I had not really focused on my discontent in an action-oriented way before hearing those words. But this resonated with me, the idea I was capable of more and could contribute in a way that would better fit how I want to be in this world. So I left my job, enrolled in University and followed my dream. A dream I am fortunate enough to now be living.

Another friend of mine was living day in and day out in a very gray sort of way. He was experiencing depression and confusion following a break up, he was not inspired by his work, and he was lonely on the other side of Australia. He reflected back to me, on a different path, that my words then had resonated with him and he took those words, gave them momentum and acted to change his whole life. Those words were “you were not meant for a mediocre life, you are here for so much more”. He has traveled the globe since then, modeled, began a technology start up business and is now moving to San Francisco following investment in his idea. I am inspired by his belief in himself and the way he transformed his life. I am humbled that I helped plant a seed that he nurtured to fruition.

The power of a word. It seems that the power of a word is exponentially multiplied by trust that the person sharing their word has no agenda but to let you know what they see. Without expectation of you performing. Just their honest reflection. Given to help you see what is hard for you to see when you are caught up in the process of life.

I am sure there are moments in your own life where someone has remarked to you something about possibility that inspired you. Or maybe the words were said and you missed their meaning because you were bogged down in the process of life. Maybe you missed it because you couldn’t see how you could possibly live up to the greatness they saw in you.

I would like to challenge you to share your honest reflections. It doesn’t have to be coloured with expectation. Just an open, loving, sharing to let someone know what you see. It might affirm them, it might give them fuel to make a big change they were already contemplating. It might break them out of defeating themselves. It might just change their lives for the better. Better still, I challenge you to listen for the words of others that might just do the same for you.

“There is an eternal landscape, a geography of the soul; we search for its outlines all our lives.”  ~Josephine Hart

Crisis of confidence

I normally prefer to write these sorts of things when they are not so close. When they are not pressing in on you, the walls shrinking, deadlines breathing down your neck, a mountain of responsibility weighing you down and the expectation that you’ve got this and are performing brilliantly crushing your soul…

In an earlier post I briefly touched on my motivation and drive for work being AWOL and my working to find it again. Well I adopted more of a “fake it ’til you make it” sort of approach to try and coax it back. I think it is starting to work. But the early glimmers have been fitful and fleeting at best.

There are times I strut my stuff confidently, arms swinging, bouncy gait, head held high “I have got this”. However, recently I have been red faced, avoidant, my memory has been shocking and the pressure of deadlines almost undoes me. Feedback framed in purely negative terms makes me want to throw myself under a bus, or at least my thesis and all the many hours of work that have gone into the last three years of my life in any case.

Over reactive, ill equipped to make informative and clear responses, highly stressed, tired and flustered. I wouldn’t see a helpful sign if it bit me on the bum. The truth is that sometimes, months on decisions don’t always make sense in the current context and it is my role to clearly present an argument in support of those decisions that are unable to change. It is also my responsibility to request help where I need it. I have been struggling with this a great deal in recent months. I am holding myself to an impossible standard and the ensuing waste of energy limits my capacity to do awesomely at a manageable level. But there is a reason that people start small. I am small in my role. A little fish. I am learning. I am also leading the way. I have responsibility. I can do as much or as little as I want with all of it. I can walk away. I can commit the rest of my working life. It is all on me.

I need to find the way out of feeling like a stupid squishy mess. I am not an idiot, I have a very capable brain on my shoulders. How to take a breath, calm and relax? Let life flow without the harsh expectations. Simply be satisfied that I applied my skill set to the best of my ability. That is my current challenge. I love what I do and I am good at it. But right now I don’t feel good at it and I am taking things that are not personal and making them mean something about me and how good I am at my job. I know that as soon as I lift off the self imposed pressure I will perform at the level I want. In the meantime you will find me quietly reading a Toltec wisdom book and chipping away slowly at some deadlines in my pyjamas.

“It’s not who you are that holds you back, it’s who you think you’re not.” ~Attributed to Hanoch McCarty