It’s a Friday evening and the building is pretty much empty already. I have been designing, rearranging, and rethinking models so my data can speak and tell an interesting story. As a result, I am still here, sitting in front of the computer, hoping that soon I can call it a day.
Sometimes I fear that I don’t go as fast as successful researchers seem to go and my heart sinks when I see all their apparent productivity and achievements: a publication here, a conference there, a report here, and a BBC interview over there. In that moment, I compare myself to others and soon a spiral of negativity and self-doubt takes control over me. My heart starts to race, my mind jumps from thought to thought, and my body becomes like a heavy stone. Why can’t I go faster? What am I doing wrong? Why can’t I be more like them? Am I good enough? And if not, when will I be?
The question marks go on and on, until I mindfully note how pointless it is to compare myself, my work and my lifestyle to anybody else. It’s true that I could go faster, if I stopped listening to my colleagues’ human needs, if I didn’t care about the message my students actually take home, if I had the guts to walk over other people, and specially if I went back to that moment in time in which work was making me physically and psychologically ill.
I can’t say exactly how long it takes me to stop the negativity spiral, but when I finally step aside and observe the roots of my own self-threatening thoughts, I realise that I am just happy with the way I am, and that it is ok to have different principles and priorities. This is where my mindfulness practise and training have helped me to cope through work and life, because it allows me to connect with myself and see everything in a different perspective. Over the years, I can surely tell that it takes me less and less time to stop the negative thinking and to tune my mind into a more positive state.
Therefore, watching it all in perspective, to go faster would mean that I would have to change who I am. I would have to walk over my colleagues in every opportunity I get, I would have to act based on an alfa personality type that doesn’t fit with my true self, and I would have to become numb and indifferent to people’s issues at work. So the important question now is ‘Do I really want to go faster?’ and ‘Do I really want to choose faster results over what is a right way of living for me?’.
The answer is a sounding ‘no’. I rather prefer to be myself, which I am more and more comfortable with, than to act like someone that I am not. And as soon as I grasp this, the fear of not being as good as other researchers goes away; it becomes smaller and smaller, until it fades away. Maybe I do indeed take more time, maybe I don’t get as much opportunities, and maybe I won’t publish, but at the end of the day I want to feel like a functional human being and I am certain that I don’t want to go back to that stage in which I have no aspirations besides living in my office.