Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Trapped by circumstance

Or: pro (little) choice

Sometimes everything in your life might feel very negative and out of your control. I don't think anybody likes this, whether they admit it or not. But sometimes the very key to recovering from feeling like a helpless dory in a storm-tossed ocean is recognizing the power you actually have.

Control is a word that has some negative connotations. But in the context of one's life, control is about choices. Being a PhD candidate is often difficult because other people are largely in control of your life, making decisions that most adults have more control over than grad students do. Oftentimes your PI, not a calendar, will decide when your vacations are. A committee "recommends" what classes you take and how many at a time. There are no options for advancement either in terms of management or salary until a group of professors- or worse, the editor of a scientific journal who has never met you- decides that you're ready to leave.

Maybe this isn't so different from other walks of life. Anyway, my point is that as frustrating as this is, the best option is not to fight it but to ride it out and gracefully sail through the rough waters. Personally, I try to keep my sanity and my spirits up by recognizing the options that are under my control. The department faculty might decide what class I have to TA, but I get to choose to spoil myself with an extra snack after lunch. A panel of big wigs might decide if my grant gets funded, but I get to choose to use the special fancy spoon to eat my oatmeal- every day. A faceless and evil administrative office might decide whether or not to reimburse my receipts but I get to decide if I cut my hair or keep it long (cut!!) If you're like me, then every time you see evidence of your-in a sense- victimhood, you'll feel some echos of anger and helplessness. But by the same token, seeing things that represent choices that you were able to make might remind you of the power you do have, as well as pride in your decision (I picked out that couch myself!)

The important thing is to appreciate and fully participate in the decisions you do get to make, and ride out the ones outside if your control. The exception to this of course is that the decisions you don't make should still, in some sense, be moving you closer to your goal. If they are not, then the scary-and wonderful- thing is that you can override all of those decisions by changing your goal or approaching it from another angle. My family watched reruns of The Wonder Years when my sister and I were growing up, and one of my favorite plot threads was when Kevin's dad quit his job to start his own business. He had always been too afraid to because he thought it would be too hard and so he let his boss control his work life-until he got fed up and finally quit. Then life was hard in a different way, but was balanced by his freedom to make his own choices about his new career.

It's not only professional situations this applies to, but the personal sphere as well. You can't make people include you, or like you, or treat you the way you deserve. But you can choose how much of this you're exposed to, and what to do with the time that you have "nothing better" to do. Sure, I wish I were in a relationship. But I ll be damned if I'm going to waste my time with someone that doesn't treat me right- I'd rather look back on a cozy Friday night with a good movie and some online shoe shopping than meaningless time with someone who leaves me feeling worse about myself.
And my ace in the hole for the decisions game is that choosing to spend some time adoring the kitty never leaves one with regrets.
posted from Bloggeroid

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