23 April 2007

Slackers anonymous?

The only destiny I have is as a world-class frak-up.
- Starbuck, Battlestar Galactica episode Maelstorm

In the last year or so, I've been trying to get my life back together. I'm back to eating and sleeping on a regular schedule (though I still fall into bad habit of missing meals sometimes). I hope to get back on my gym schedule. I have hobbies that keep me happy and occupied (mainly hockey and reading news on the internet). Unfortunately, the hardest thing to get back is the desire to do real science (e.g. research, class, seminars, learning).

The thing that puzzles me is how does a person go from being incredibly enthusiastic, motivated, and successful (I was at the top of my undergraduate class at a prestigious technology university) to being a complete slacker, lazy and uninterested in doing work? I seem to spend my weeks doing the barest, barest minimum of work to show my advisor and slack off the rest of the time. I haven't really attended any seminars this semester.

The best analogy I can come up with is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Apparently, there are plenty of formerly wonderful people who become alcoholics. I don't know what it's like to be an alcoholic but I can take a guess. You try to avoid your problems by drinking. And of course, avoiding your problems only makes them worse. The purpose of AA is to create a support group so that you have to be accountable to other people (who are not your friends/family) on a regular basis. Some AA members even attend meetings daily (according to my cursory Wikipedia research). It makes sense. Their problems are so deep that the only way to dig themselves out is with continuous peer pressure.

How is my work problem similar? I try to avoid work by doing other things like errands, checking the news, watching hockey games, etc. When I really try to sit down and work, I often trick myself into taking just a "short nap" which turns into a four hour siesta. I also often fall into the oh, I did two hours of work… I’m done for the day!” attitude. This is not unlike alcoholics who say to themselves, "I just got through a tough day, now I'll have a drink" and then it becomes ten drinks. Why would a sane person self-destruct themselves by drinking instead of being happy and productive? Similarly, it makes no sense for a young person with tons of potential to sit around slacking their scientific career away.

The point where a person becomes really screwed is when he/she stops feeling bad/guilty about self-destructive behavior.

Well, not all hope is lost. I have some ideas on how to get back on track. Wish me luck.

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