It is very difficult for me to see my accomplishments. Part of the reason for this is that I feel really lazy a lot of the time. I don’t think I work very hard, especially compared to these scientists I see on twitter who are putting in 70-80 hours a week and tweeting from the lab at 2 am on a Sunday morning. That’s not me, and never really has been. And it never will be. I don’t have that drive.
My sponsor tells me, and I tell others, never to compare my inside to other people’s outside. We never know how people really are. Maybe that scientist is in the lab at 2 am because if she has to spend one more minute watching her spouse sleep, she’ll stab him in the eye with an ice pick. The point is, I don’t know. I’ll never know. So I create an image in my head of some superscientist, doing better than me. Smarter and working harder.
And I am not, objectively, extraordinarily productive. A couple of papers and a couple of grant submissions per year. That’s what I do. Hopefully, it’ll be enough. I’m working on putting together several projects. I’m submitting a couple of papers from my funded study (one in review, one ready to submit). I have a grant under review and a project that is likely to be funded by a non-granting entity, that provides funding for engineering problems. I’m not sure how to characterize it for the CV, but I’m sure I’ll find a way.
But if I look back, from where I am to where I was, I’ve made enormous strides. From an unemployed drunk to a PI. I made that transition in three years. That’s not nothing. I’ve published papers in good journals, I’ve had a couple of medium-sized (ok, small) grants and awards funded, and I’ve been promoted at work.
I have a friend right now who is at the beginning of their journey (I’m using plural pronouns because I’m not revealing gender, not because I’m an idiot.). They’ve been sober a bit more than three months. And, like most of us, they had huge problems. We’re fond of saying, in AA, that no one gets here on a winning streak. We show up, we reach out for help, because our lives are totally unmanageable. In addition to drinking problems, my friend was having work problems, housing problems, financial problems. And three and a half months later, they’re all in the process of being sorted out.
And it’s been nothing short of a privilege to be there through it. Talking, sharing, crying, laughing, admonishing, teaching, learning. And I’m not even their sponsor. But it’s been incredible to see the progress. Yesterday a major event improved this person’s standing on a major and trying issue. Today, they said: “OK. I can build from here.” I had to say: “Look both directions. You’ve been building all along.”
It’s hard for them to see that. It’s hard for me to see my progress. But if I simply list the things that I’ve done in the past four and a half years, in sobriety, without thinking of them as things that I’ve done, but instead assign them to some random individual, a placeholder, they’re pretty impressive.
This guy was an obese, unemployed, drunk; smoking a pack a day. He stopped drinking. He got a job. He did the steps. He stopped smoking. He published some papers. He won a grant. He got a promotion. He got lost 50 pounds. He was appointed as an adjunct professor at a fine medical school. He published some more papers. He won another grant. Now, he’s on a short list for an international tenure track position at a fine university, and another fine university has already offered him a non-TT assistant professorship (but it isn’t available yet… damn funding issues).
And yet, I can look back on all of that and think: I’ve been lazy. I’ve accomplished nothing. Because my mind doesn’t connect reality to my sense of self. I know that other people have these same issues with self-perception. I wonder, sometimes, if it isn’t something like the same mental process that leads anorexics to see their reflections as still overweight. I do not see myself, or judge myself, the same way that I see and judge other people. My reality is often not real to me.
This is why the program of Alcoholics Anonymous is so important to me. I have a community of people who look at me and see me as I am, remind me where I am, and help me correct my perceptions. And that correction, like a pilot making tiny adjustments to an aircraft’s course, keeps me in balance. It saves my life.