Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Shrink, episode 1.5.1

I've come up with a new theory about the dynamics of my motivation system.

As long as I can remember I've had a bordering-on-maniacal obsession with efficiency in my work. Computer programming is a great way to try to fill this hole: everything is off or on, black or white, efficiency gains can all be measured objectively and quantitatively (this program runs 26.4% faster than this other program). My work (lines of source code) is easily presented to other people, proving that I performed difficult labor. Tangible gains can by proven on a daily basis.

I need a plan. I need a direction. I need structure. I need to attack problems. I need to see myself progressing. I need to prove to myself, and anyone else who cares, that I am succeeding. Every day.

In science most substantive things take months or years. It's hard to prove that you're making substantive progress daily, weekly, even monthly. It often (to me) feels like floundering around hopelessly, grasping with overly educated guesses at various straws while blathering incessantly1.

My new theory goes something like this: My pattern of mental self abuse2 has taught me that if I can't prove that I made tangible progress today, then I haven't, and I'm a slacker. This feedback system declares the vast majority of academia a monumental waste of time. School is massively inefficient because it attempts to broadly prepare you for future challenges, many of which may never happen.

So the feedback loop in my head, every day in chemistry, goes something like this: "Why am I attempting to memorize factoid number 700? I'm never going to use this, and I've already forgotten most of the factoids so far. Why are you sitting here? You suck at this." My mental defenses kick in, saying "but I'm good at programming. I can prove it. Look at my paychecks! Look at my source code!"

Hopefully this spring semester I can break that feedback loop and be OK with investing, in a massively inefficient manner, "in myself." By knowing and forgetting more chemistry. And math. To get the degree. Which may be good to have. Someday.

Because this week I realized some of it does stick. Listening to a JCVI genius present 4 hours of material this week, he threw out some key words I never would have loosely understood without that semester of chemistry. 5 months later I do remember the gist of a few nuggets of what I learned through that book I can't help hating. (I'll just keep telling myself that 5% sticks and that's OK. -laugh-)

So, through constant meditation and daily affirmations maybe I can survive getting this degree. In the year 2014 Zach will be out of high school and maybe I can try out a "dream job" w/ JCVI or NCBI or something...

I guess we'll find out. :)

1. Hyperbole. But you get the gist.
2. My shrink rated me a 10 on a 10 scale. That surprised me. :)

1 comment:

BrotherBemused said...

Hey, if you can get five percent academic stickage that's pretty darn sticky, I'd say. Not sure my percentage would be that good other than maybe a few topics I really en joyed. (That'd be readin' and writin'. 'Rithmetic, not so much.

I'm also amazed that you'd be considered a perfect ten in self critique, an area where I thought I had cornered the market.