Surround yourself with positive people.
We must have heard a version of this sentence some time in our lives. This week I am revisiting this sentence as I try to face some things that are happening in my personal life and work.
A while back, one of my supervisors, who I really admired, told me that she is quitting her job. This basically means that from then on, I would be mostly on my own for my research. (It is a little exaggerating, of course, as I can always ask for help from people around me, but when I received the news, that was my thought anyway).
I was happy for her, that she’s moving on to better things, but mostly confused for myself. How am I gonna do this? Can I do this? For a few days, I got a little sick from being stressed about the situation, and this – me, being stressed because of this – took me aback.
I’ve always seen myself as a positive person. If Alice from Through the Looking Glass believed in 6 impossible things before breakfast, I believed in 7, even more. I’ve never seen myself as the greatest person in the world, but I’m not one to shy away from challenge. I always believed that there is always a way to anything.
However, the past three years of my career have seen me being unsure of myself, often afraid of making mistakes, and just overall undermining my accomplishments. If I want to move forward, I need to understand where this problem is coming from and cut it at its roots.
I’ve always thought the competitive academic working environment was to blame, but I’ve always been in competitive environments since college (hello, ITB!), so there must be more to it. After a cold hard look at the past three years, I honestly think I got affected by my supervisor’s negative outlook on our work environment.
I think she was at the brink of burning out, but I never realized it until now. My supervisor had always complained about how demanding our work is. Even on her day offs, she always had something from work to catch up on. She didn’t dare take vacation days, she seemed to almost always take lunch at her desk. One thing that affected me the most was her outlook on how people judge us in this work. Flashback to a year ago, when I was about to present my work at a conference. My supervisor was so stressed that the experts in the room would not accept our findings, I actually broke down and felt very afraid of going on stage to present something *I* did. Looking at it now, if the experts thought I was doing something wrong, let them think so and tell me! I’d be happy to fix it in my future work. But the damage was done. I get very anxious about sharing my work now, heck, I even get anxious about stating my opinion *on my own blog*. And really, I shouldn’t! Putting my work and thoughts out, getting feedback on them are the way I can move forward.
I’m glad my supervisor’s moving on before she burns out completely, but I regret that I couldn’t see that what she complained about was influenced a lot by her own stress. I took them all and took them personally.
My lesson learned here is that, no matter how close you work together, your colleagues’ opinion – even when they’re about your work – are subject to a lot of background factors. Nothings is ever entirely about you. It’s also about their baggage.
Another lesson is to keep an eye open on signs that people might be over-stressed and burning out. They probably can’t bring positivity to you due to their conditions, but *you* can try bringing positivity to them.
Now that I’ve got my lessons, I am ready to move forward focusing on positive things and trying to surround myself with more positivity than negativity. I need to get back to believing in 7 impossible things at breakfast. It had always felt good. I’m sure it still does.