I’ve never had to work hard at anything. I know that sounds like my head is so far up my arse I couldn’t smell a fart in a car, but it means I don’t know how to work hard at something. My school reports all said ‘top of the class without putting in any effort’; I cruised through my psych degree barely-and-rarely sober; my masters didn’t challenge me because most of my subjects were taught at an undergrad level (even though I was paying masters course fees, and yes, UTS, I’m still pissed off about that). The trapeze course was challenging, but that’s because it was physically hard and I’m a lazy cow. And I’ve never had a job that’s required my brain to do anything other than keep me breathing (gonna get in trouble at work for that one).
Which is how I ended up at this point: in my mid thirties, doing a doctorate and not knowing how to work hard. Not knowing how to work, let alone work my arse off. Not knowing how to push my brain because I’ve always been able to wing it and still do well. I’m not an over-achiever, I’m a lazy-achiever. Actually, that’s bullshit: I’m an under-achiever.
As you can imagine, being Lazy McLazypants and doing a research doctorate don’t go too well together. I’ve blamed the internet but the problem was there before this blog, before twitter, before email and ohmygodlookatthisshinyshiny. I don’t need the internet to distract me because I am one big distraction machine. I’ve fallen way behind in my reading and it’s hard to talk in any detail about what I’m researching because I haven’t thought enough about it – which is lucky, because after two sentences, people’s eyes glaze over anyway.
But this year, things are going to be different. We’re moving to a new place where the study is bright and sunny, and I am going to surprise myself with how much work I get done.
“The problem is a luxury. It can only surface if one has been relatively well-educated and if the work in question intrinsically allows for self-development and self-fulfillment,” (p. 163).
And there’s my privilege right there. Talk about #firstworldproblem. Oh waaaaah, I couldn’t be bothered doing my fulfilling and intellectually stimulating work. As K would say, my diamond shoes are too tight.
“I had had a work problem all my life, but I didn’t know it until college. The symptoms in college were straightforward. I never studied, I seldom went to class; yet I defined myself as a future psychologist and had no questions about the desirability of doing meaningful intellectual work for the rest of my life… I drew a blank whenever I considered my future… I wrote my papers only at the last minute, and I never once worked an intellectual problem through to its conclusion. I did enough to get by,” (p. 164).
Valian wrote this in 1977 but she is writing about me. And, I suspect, some of you.
“It occurred to me that mental work is like sex in certain respects, although at first it seemed a bizarre comparison. The most important aspect of the analogy was the idea that work was natural. I had always thought of work as something I had to make myself do, something I didn’t intrinsically enjoy. The analogy suggested that I was getting in my own way, that I was preventing myself from enjoying myself. It wasn’t that I had to learn somehow to force myself to work, but rather to remove the roadblocks in the way of enjoyment,” (p. 165).
Unlike Valian, I’m not daunted by the work – I just can’t seem to make myself do the work. A guy I knew at uni used to say that the hardest part of going for a run every day is putting on your shoes. I can’t put on my shoes.
Because if I’m honest, I don’t want to get stuck into my doctorate because if I start it then I’m closer to finishing it. And then what? What if I discover that I’m not as good as I like to think I am? What if, even after I become Dr News with Nipples, I still don’t know what I want to do with my life? Those are the two things that freak me out the most. I’ve never known what I want to do for a career. I’ve approached each job as ‘sure, I’ll do this for a while and then fall into something else’. It means I avoid making decisions or thinking Big Grown-up Thoughts.
“The fourth rule was to ignore thoughts about the end product and how the end product would be received. I could too easily find myself inhabiting a fantasy world in which my thesis led to fame and renown. Not only was this eventuality extremely unlikely, but it led me further away from, rather than closer to, my goal of discovering the pleasures of the process of work. I wanted to work not because of the supposed effect of my work on others, but for the gratifications, to me, of working. My fantasies made the reality of my barely begun thesis look so shabby I didn’t want to have anything to do with it,” (p. 168).
Yep, she’s talking about me. This is just spooky.
“Before my work program, that is, before I was able to work, I didn’t know how I spent my days, except that I never seemed to have enough time or energy to do things I wanted to do. By the end of a day, I would have accomplished nothing, have no idea where the time had gone, and then be very depressed. I felt so guilty about not working that I couldn’t do anything else either, because I should have been spending that time working. But since I couldn’t work when I “should”, I often spent the allotted time doing nothing, literally nothing,” (p. 176).
So, all I need to do now is convince myself that I really enjoy working. How hard can it be?