Doing difficult things does not make you a better person

Job-wise, things seem to be going downhill for me. I am not sure what is going on with me recently. I have problems to work, and if I try to work, I get migraines. I make mistakes that I would normally not make. I forget deadlines. I feel an unexplainable, overwhelming resentment against most of my colleagues and collaborators. I cancel appointments and work visits and conferences because I just really really do not want to go, with a force that I have not known before.

For so long,  I have worked so hard for this job, I have tried to hard to get along with people, I have fought and struggled and tried to swim. Now I am sinking towards the ground looking at other people’s feet kicking and trampling and hitting each other if they can.

There is one thing  that keeps coming to mind. Maybe this is the big thing I am learning now:

Doing things that are unpleasant, painful, difficult for you does not make you strong. It makes you weak. It does, however make you strong to do things that are easy, enjoyable, fun.

I have not known this for most of my life. I thought that if I took the hard route wherever I could, I would learn more, grow more, improve myself more, and I wanted to improve myself so much. What I did not know is that the amount of time and energy I had was more limited than I thought, and that using up energy to take the hard route means that you have no energy to do even the things that would be easy for you.

I wonder if it perhaps it is not always the best choice to “follow one’s dream”. Where does a dream even come from? It might be the real calling, but it might also just be who you would like to be if you could choose to be another person. But you can’t!

I think what I did not fully understand when I was younger is that one can not just pick from a huge supermarket of options whatever one wants, and then become this person. Instead, one should try to become whoever one truly is. I had no idea about this difference. Perhaps, if I had just done what was easy for me, and enjoyable, I would be much happier now.

I am like an overweight person dreaming of this beautiful dress which only fits a very skinny person, exercising like crazy, eating little, saving money for the dress, and then finally fitting it on and seeing that the fundamental body shape and the dress still just do not match, and the colour is wrong for her skin, and actually it is very uncomfortable, and actually she has started to hate the dress because of all that she had to do to get in.

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12 Responses to Doing difficult things does not make you a better person

  1. deevybee says:

    Your posts are impressive for their honesty, but it is really sad to see you losing your enthusiasm and struggling so hard. It’s clear that the environment is not ideal for you; you may be right in concluding that perhaps you are seeking the wrong goals, but this could be a temporary glitch related to problems with the specific workplace. It might help to talk this over with an objective and sympathetic person. Does the organisation you work for have any possibilities for mentorship for someone in your position? Is there anyone with responsibility for academic career development? If not in the organisation,maybe via the body who funds your work? I did a quick Google and found this which may be of use:

    • zinemin says:

      Thank you very much for the kind response, this really means a lot to me. I feel quite alone with this and people outside of academia simply do not seem to understand what I mean. I know that it would be good if I could talk to someone. I have tried to bring up the topic with a few people in my field but I feel like they do not want to hear about it. It seems to be a bit of a taboo topic to consider leaving at this point since I would probably actually be able to find a tenure-track position within the next 1-2 years. It would be ideal to be able to talk to an expert in academic career development, this is a good point. I had not actually even heard of this term but it sounds like exactly what I need. I will look around, the Dutch organization might be a good starting point. Thank you again! 🙂

  2. ridicuryder says:

    Hello Zinemin,

    We have watched your posts for a while despite vowing to quit you. It’s hard to drop something you have put a lot of work into. Your dress analogy really seems healthy, you almost always sound conflicted about the course your life is taking.

    This may have been previously discussed, but can you take a leave of absence? Then just get lost somewhere and feel yourself……IN YOUR SKIN…….and not for a few weeks, but a few months. Everybody is lost or at least just a few circumstances from being lost, maybe you are just not lost enough.


  3. Aloha says:

    I think academia is a particularly messed-up field as far as honoring basic human needs is concerned. I just came back to academia – the sciences, no less – after ‘finding myself’, and am quite frustrated at the amount of one’s life one is expected to devote to ‘work’. There is no good reason for this to be the ‘norm’, and in fact is most likely counter-productive. I find it absolutely draining, and have to constantly remind myself that it’s only temporary, but still find myself evaluating whether this ‘temporary’ sacrifice is worth the gains. Arrgh.

  4. melaninas says:

    Believe in the inner voice! I was generally unhappy in the town where I went to study, and had many disputes with my sister, because she argued that I would take my depression with me, wherever I go. After I finished my studies, I went for a 6 month doing a voluntary service in Brazil, which was like re-setting many defaults that I had accustomed to during the past years…. Back to Germany, I went to the first town that seemed nice to me, close to my grandmothers place, and I am happy here “ever since” 🙂 Of course, there are struggles and options over and over, but the simple things that you know in your heart you shouldn’t give up just because others have other opinions! The world is so big and what is a career worth if you are not identifying yourself with it?
    I always try to get inspired by people that just do crazy things and get along with it… Sometimes you just have to close a door before you know what you may expect behind the next one.

    • zinemin says:

      Thank you! I think distance, like you going to Brazil, is exactly the right thing. I wish I could go really far away for a few months and not see anyone remotely connected to my current working life. I know this thought “you would be depressed anywhere”… I am worried about this too. There is just no way to know…

  5. Hey Zinemin,

    I don’t know much about your field of expertise, so I apologize if I sound preachy or anything. But one thing is pretty clear: you definitely need to take a breather. Maybe… try finding the reason why you are doing what you are doing right now. It takes a certain kind of person to want to work in the academe, as not everyone is going to thrive in that world. There may be a difference between working hard to get somewhere and working hard because you don’t know what else to do.

    • zinemin says:

      Thank you, you are completely right. I am currently taking some time off reflect on things, and I am getting some counseling. It was really not possible to stay in this situation any longer. Maybe I will find my motivation again or I will find something else.

  6. TSeral says:

    Hey Zinemin,
    reading your posts sometimes gives me the creeps – a bit.
    I am now doing a master thesis in physics, and I would like to be a professor one day – I think. I am, however, not sure whether I won’t get the same problems as you write about. I also tend to choose the most difficult way. (However: I am an extrovert, and usually clash with introverts, but I assure you: I have deep-going conversations, and also listen to people ;-))
    I hope you get your problems solved, and anyway: Only people in academia think that going into ‘real life’ is a form of giving up.
    How about something you can try out while staying in your position – scientific journalism, or some cooperation with industry? Or more research or more teaching?

    Or maybe you just need a break to find friends? (I had some problems with my group and came to hate working because of that. Now I have found some other friends that I eat lunch with, and suddenly I like my topic and my group again…)

    Don’t give up and enjoy Christmas!

    • zinemin says:

      Hi Rabea

      Thanks for your friendly comment.
      I am sorry, the last thing I want to do is scare young women to go into academia! Everyone is different and I know some women who are happy and successful in my field.
      It is great that you already have a clear goal for your future. I pursued an academic career with no clear goal, it just seemed the most interesting choice at all points along the way, and I was more successful than I would have imagined. Now I am wondering if I really want to be a professor because I am not sure that matches my personality. I think in an academic career you benefit from being an extrovert in several ways: you are better at networking, have more natural authority, make better first impressions, give better talks, have an easier time moving around because you make friends faster. Maybe for women it is even more helpful to be extroverted (or at least being able to appear extroverted when needed), because you always stand out to some degree. I just think that there should also be a place for introverts in academia because we have some good qualities too. But it is very hard for people like me once you reach the ‘postdoc->assistant prof’ point in the career. I know other introverted postdocs who had nervous breakdowns about the prospect of having to move again and having to make new friends again.

      Sorry for having been negative about extroverts. I should not equate “unable to listen” and “extrovert”, this is not the same thing. I am a bit frustrated since I feel like at this point in my career my life would be easier if I was an extrovert and this appears unfair to me, since I cannot change who I am am. But I should not direct my anger at the extroverts. 🙂
      And thanks for the advice about looking for friends. I am sure this would make so much difference. It is just something I am really bad at.

      Anyway, I wish you all the best with your Master thesis and good luck & courage with your career, and happy Christmas to you too!


  7. Paddy says:

    Hi Zinemin,

    I can understand the things you feel, and I can foresee the same questions coming up in my future. I just graduated with a BSc in Biology and I’m working at a lab before applying for my PhD. But lately I’ve been asking myself, what am I going to do after the PhD and post-doc, when I’m pretty sure I don’t want to be a PI and get into managing people, applying for funds and doing a lot of socialising.

    I was drawn to science in the first place because I really wanted to solve complex puzzles and understand things, contribute to the pool human knowledge, and kind of do a “real” job which actually helps people, rather than go into banking and finance or something. Working in the lab now I realise that things aren’t as rosy as they seemed and academia really is daunting and scary. I’m not so sure I want to go down that road.

    What are your thoughts on alternative careers like science writing, or anything else? I still want to do my PhD and then just take it from there I guess.

  8. Suz says:

    Hi. Zinemin. I feel you have a classic case of workplace stress. Unable to concentrate, missing deadlines, migraines are all symptoms. The negative experience of the interview will be partially coloured by your outlook too. When stressed we have a much more negative few of the world and find it a hostile and threatening place. I know this as I had a similar issue. I fought against it and lost. The battle really wasn’t worth it. If you don’t fit in somewhere don’t change you to fit them. Change the situation to somewhere where you fit just as you are. If others don’t accept you just as you are then too bad. That’s their problem not yours. You can wear an outfit to pretend to be different only for so long before it wears you down. If you don’t fit as you then you don’t fit and it is time to move on.

    If there is an occupational health department where you are then I’d go and see them. They may have some helpful suggestions that might find a way that you can be happier in your current situation.

    Ultimately I think you need to get out of that environment and find one where you are content. Life is too short to spend it being miserable.

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