The best laid plans of mice and men…

by e_e_evans PhD student

A more philosophical post this time, away from my usual topics of science and stuff (the back-log of science and stuff posts is getting to be quite a long list…).

Plan: keeping in contact better with Durham people…

Result: An almost universal fail. Many of the people who I hold dearly to heart probably think I’ve totally forgotten about them. So this bit is for you:
Meth. Soc. gang and North Road Methodist people: I miss your gentle and friendly company. I hope you all are well.
MCR folks: I hope people are reading the library books! I’m glad knitting soc. is still going strong. I miss meal times with you, breakfasts are quite lonely now.
Geology pals: Rock on.
St John’s staff etc: Thank you. I think of you often and all the support you gave me (yes I mean the Porters, the Assistant Senior Tutor, Head of Maintenance, our Chaplin and Millie the dog etc etc etc)
Cranmer and Weasley peeps: Many of you are now all over the country, God’s blessings on you. Be as cunning as snakes but as innocent as lambs.

Truthfully, I’m more interested in how you are than me letting you know how I am.

But for what it’s worth: I have found a Church, I have great colleagues who have become good friends (we go to a pub quiz together among other things, and sometimes we win prizes), I have a place of my own and a pet Zebra Finch called Daisy (she’s adorable).

———————————————–

     Now onto something else.

Recently, whenever we seem to get into a good swing of work in the lab something seems to happen. Mainly to the equipment. To that end I spent all of yesterday change the filament in the X-ray machine as it had blown 1 hour into a 7 hour scan I had set to run on Thursday (we suspect a power surge may have occurred as the SEM’s filament also blew over night on Thursday. Or it might just to good ol’ coincidence). I’m quite pleased that with a little oversight from my colleagues (read: me begging them to check that I’d done it correctly every hour) I managed to do it all by myself.
Here’s the relevance: This sort of thing teaches you emotional resilience or at the very least highlights a need for improvement in that regard.
When things go wrong (in the ‘broken equipment’, ‘car won’t start’, ‘computer just died’ kind of way) we can behave in a couple of ways:

Anger: “How dare the world conspire to ruin my perfectly good day”.
Frustration: “Great, now I have to spend my time sorting this instead of doing something else”.
Impotent sadness: “Wwwwhhhhyyyyyyy???? *sob*”
Pragmatism: “These things happen.”
Cynicism: “Things things always happen.”
Optimism: “At least it happened now when I can fix it.”
Joy: “Yay, a new experience!”

I wouldn’t say any of those reactions are healthier than others (except that impotent sadness doesn’t get anything done) and by yourself any of those reactions are valid. But in a work environment some can be more helpful than others.

I once when on a residential trip where one of the discussions we had was about group dynamics and positive and negative behaviours. One friend of mine suggested something that initially had been a bit of a joke “complaining about the weather”. When we thought about it more, though, we agreed that that attitude can bring everyone down.

Yesterday, I got frustrated. I lost Thursday’s scan time and Friday’s scan time, but I had to be pragmatic. As a member of a team being angry and potentially lashing out at someone would have been extremely unproductive. Being miserable and unable to function would have meant someone else would have had to do it. That would have meant firstly, someone busier than me would have had to fix it and also it would have prevented me from learning a very important skill I will need when several of my lab mates graduate.

That being said, by the end of yesterday I was exhausted. My back ached in a characteristic way that indicated I was stressed, I was going cross-eyed from looking at the alignment images and one of my colleagues clearly noticed I was flagging. I don’t say that to garner sympathy, a gentle cycle home and eating chips while watching telly was enough to fix that, but to highlight that pragmatism isn’t easy.

My mother had a colleague at a previous job who would suffer badly with stress. She would storm around the office, sighing heavily, complaining and slamming filing cabinets shut. It was easier for her to get cross than to bottle it up or try to move past the thing that was going on.

The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. But it still doesn’t stop it costing energy to put it right.

I’m not one of finish any blog post of mine with some Aesop’s fables style moral lesson instead I’ll circle back to my opening comment in this section. These events teach you emotional resilience by only if we have the emotional intelligence to know what pushes our buttons. I know I respond badly to change or unexpected things so I know I have to work through them, especially at work where I’m part of a team. Maybe bad weather gets you down or seeing fifty emails in your inbox is enough to switch you to panic mode but if we know those things, we can mitigate.

It’s only when we know our quirks but don’t spare others our reactions to those quirks that we stand on shaky ground.

This article was sponsored by Chai tea drunk from a china cup,
because I’m way classy, yo. 

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