There are lots of things I don’t know how to do. These are the three I struggled with today*.
I don’t know how to do a PhD
Today I coded a transcript of an interview. It was great! What fun, to be able to sit and think and interpret really interesting content. (I’m not being sarcastic – it is actually fun, and a privilege.) But in the in-between movements, I kept thinking oh-my-god-I-don’t-know-what-I’m-doing-surely-I-must-be-doing-this-wrong-I-can’t-even-code-a-transcript-how-can-I-write-a-thesis.
But then I remembered I don’t actually have to know exactly what I’m doing because the whole point of doing a PhD is to learn to be a researcher. And then I thought oh-my-god-I-don’t-know-what-I’m-doing-surely-I-can’t-write-a-thesis. And then I stopped thinking and went and made some more tea.
I don’t know how to do one thing at a time
I’m so used to frantically multi-tasking that I have completely lost the ability to do just one thing at a time. Actually (as an old friend told me the other day in an instant messaging conversation I was having while I was on a Skype call followed by answering email), I never knew how to do one thing at a time. My attention span sucks. I can’t even watch TV without writing a blog post or answering email or having a conversation via DM on Twitter at the same time. I get frustrated at the cinema because people whinge about the light being a distraction if you have your phone on. I don’t know how to focus on one thing at a time, particularly when that one thing is something time consuming or detailed. Even if it’s interesting. Even if it’s really, REALLY interesting and I really want to do it. I just can’t seem to stop myself trying to do other stuff at the same time.
I am, quite simply, a stimulus junkie.
I don’t know how to finish <insert any task/project/thing here>
I am not a completer. I am an ideas girl. I’m a starter. I’m a mid-range runner. I like to design projects, kick them off, get them implemented, maybe even start the post-implementation evaluation… and then in the blink of an eye, I tune out. The shine of new projects dies quickly. Maybe it’s about being a stimulus junkie. Maybe things go from stimulating to unstimulating once I’ve worked out the challenges. Whatever it is, the product is the same. If something goes on for too long, I’m over it before we get to the end. My to do lists (both work and life) are full of things that I just can’t seem to finish. And I JUST WANT THEM TO GO AWAY.
This is interesting, really, because I am a details person in the worst kind of way. I am completely and utterly pedantic about details that, in the grand scheme of things, don’t actually matter. Like being consistent in the capitalisation I use in blog post titles, or finding the exact right font for a job, or lining things up precisely in a Word document. It took me six months to hang a picture gallery in my office because I was scared shitless of making a mistake, of not getting the visual balance exactly right, or of knocking holes in my newly painted wall in places I didn’t want holes. My blog posts sit in draft for days or weeks because I am never sure I’ve proofed them enough or that they will make sense to anyone but me or that I actually want to show them to the world. (*Case in point: this post. It’s been sitting in draft since Wednesday. So when say ‘today’ at the top of the post, I actually mean three days ago.)
I think I just had another epiphany. I literally just figured this out, in the middle of writing that last sentence. Like a real epiphany, not one I planned to have in order to tie this post up nicely. In fact this epiphany is poor timing, really, because it has messed up the rhythm of my writing (and subsequently caused me to let this post sit in draft for several days). This was supposed to be a post about “things I don’t know how to do”, not “figuring out the reasons I can’t do certain things”. But I am all too aware of how hard won these nuggets of self-knowledge can be so I’m running with it…
And here it is, my epiphany: Maybe I don’t know how to finish anything because I am overwhelmed by having to do everything to my own exacting standards.
So perhaps the third thing I don’t know how to do should actually be…
I don’t know how to settle for done
Done is good, but rarely good enough for me. Which is quite a problem, really, when you’ve got five months to write a thesis (five months minus two days, if we’re going to be specific).
Now, where did I put my cult of done sign?