I have a problem. I have a bit of a fixation on finishing what I start, of sticking through to the bitter end (whatever that endpoint is in my head).
This “problem”, as I label it, seems as if it should be a good thing. After all, this is how shit gets done.
But situations change, people grow up (or don’t), and some directions are intractable. Here is where my problem becomes manifest. I gravitate toward challenging questions. I have a particular vision for how something is supposed to progress, that if I pound on something long enough, eventually something useful or informative will fall out. But that’s just not how science – or life – works.
I don’t think I’m totally beyond help or hope. My instincts aren’t terrible. I tend to see the promise, not the pitfalls, at the start. But I’m not blinded to the problems along the way. I can see when something is approaching an impasse.
And this is when and where the internal conflict begins, a battle between perseverance and pragmatism. Let me try one more thing … OK, but how long do I keep making “one last attempt”? … Maybe I’m just overreacting to a setback … This problem can’t be solved right now. Typically I debate, I worry, I wonder while I carry on. And then eventually – weeks, months, maybe even years later – I arrive at the same conclusion – this thing just isn’t going to work as planned, at least at the moment.
I sometimes wonder if this is just an inherent personality trait at work or whether we – in science or, perhaps, society at large – overemphasize “stick-to-itiveness”. Keep it up. You’ll figure it out! If you just stick with it, you can make it. Just keep up the hard work. You’ll get it eventually.
I also wonder whether it’s just fear. Fear of being wrong. Fear that I lack of commitment, that I’m not smart enough. Fear that I’m giving up & conceding defeat rather than making a strategically sound move. But maybe above all, it’s fear of change.
Change can be exhilarating but also terrifying. It means moving away from what I know, what I’ve invested in. It means tackling something new. And it means a whole new round of uncertainties. Even if the other thing wasn’t working, I knew it wasn’t working. The old thing might have been broken, and I might not have known how to fix it, but I knew where I stood. Now I have take the risk, take the plunge all over again.
Patience and determination make a difference – in this career and this life. But taken too far, dedication can be damaging. I’m learning which things I should put away to pull out again later and which things I should just let go of entirely. It’s not always easy to distinguish. There have been mistakes, and there will be more. But I’m growing, and I hope I’ll learn to better balance these two parts of my mind – the one that wants to finish what she started and the one that understands not all things can be carried through to the end envisioned.