Monthly Archives: October 2014

Ivory Tower Baggage

Well, the project that was freaking me out last week is out for review, which means my bit is done for at least little while. I think one of the things that made it so stressful is it was a different type of project than our firm usually does (retail rather than restaurant), so the people in the office I’ve been relying on for advice were just about as clueless as I was. But as I tied up the last straggling loose ends, I had a bit of an epiphany.

Work is not school.

There is no “right” or “wrong” way to do things, at least not in the ways there are in academia, where you’re trying to earn a good grade. There’s no syllabus that’s been used year after year, refined until most of the bugs have been squashed and everything is internally consistent. There is no set beginning and end to a project like there is when you hand in a term paper. And your coworkers are not the same as all-knowing professors who know their aforementioned syllabus inside and out.

This may seem extremely obvious, and I feel a bit embarrassed that I didn’t notice it sooner, but it’s something that I’m still learning to grok. I think a lot of my stress came from when I would ask the local office’s project manager (not technically my boss, but they do have their own office whereas I have a cubicle) for advice or clarification. Too often, the answer was a shrug or something along the lines of “I’m not sure either.” It was even weirder when they turned around and asked me for advice in response to one of my questions.

That’s when I realized that I had truly left the cut-and-dry world of academia, and had entered a much more messy and ambiguous realm. I was no longer a subservient student, I was another professional (albeit inexperienced), with the tacit assumption that I knew something about what I was doing.

That assumption is kind of flattering, but also kind of terrifying. After all, if I know enough to work on my own, then it falls on my shoulders if something goes wrong or gets missed. And I know just enough to realize how much more I don’t know. And of course there’s my inherent perfectionism, worrying about doing everything right the first time, never mind if I’m still learning the ropes and developing my skills.

But I’m trying to let that go. Going forward, I’m going to try and remember that I am capable of doing things based on my own knowledge. I’m going to try and not worry about not having the answer all the time. I’m going to try and not worry about whether or not I did something “right” when doing it “well enough” would have been sufficient.

And if I miss something, that’s what the permit and client review stage is for, right?

But Wait, There’s More

One of the most annoying things about my job is how there always seems to be something else to do. I don’t mean that in the “Oh, you finished one project, let’s move you on to another.” That would be the case regardless of where I worked. No, what I mean is the way things have a tendency to snowball: “I have to to X, which means I need to do Y. But that requires A and B to be taken care of. Alright, I think I’m done. Oh crap, what about Z?”

Maybe it’s my lack of experience that’s preventing me from seeing everything that I need to accomplish. Grad school gave me a taste, of course, but actual practice is several steps above even that. And in school, you had a more-knowledgeable professor checking in periodically to make sure you were on the right track, to direct you towards the questions that needed to be answered. In the real world, you don’t even have that. You’ve only got your coworkers, who may be more experience than you, but not necessarily in the things you need help with. Or you may not know who to ask. Or your oversights may not become apparent until the deadline has come and suddenly the goalposts rocket up into the sky and land even further away.

I guess what I’m saying is that I know there’s a lot I don’t know. But I don’t know what that is, or where to find it. It’s a really discouraging place to be. Like I said, I keep getting to a place where I think I’m almost done, but all that does is allow me to see how much is left. It’s like when I went to Great Sand Dunes National Park as a kid. My dad and I decided to hike to the top of the tallest dune we could see. At the time this was quite an accomplishment; I don’t remember how young I was. But I remember being so proud that I had made it to the top! I had set a goal, and achieved it!

And…

And once I got to the top, there were more, larger sand dunes as far as the eye could see. There was no way I was going to make it to “the top of the tallest,” especially with the sun setting. So we started our climb back down, slightly dejected (there’s only so dejected you can be, after all, slipping and sliding barefoot through the sand).

I guess what I’m trying to say is, the more work I do, the more there seems to be. And that seems really counter-intuitive. Maybe it’s lack of experience. Maybe it’s short-sightedness. In any case, I’m trying to not be too hard on myself, but that’s easier said than done.

Stress Reactions

Stress sucks.  I know, I probably don’t have to tell you that, since you live in the same modern era that I do.  Like anyone else, I do my best to avoid getting stressed.  But of course, I’m not always as successful as I’d like; something about there being exterior factors outside your control or something.  I get stressed often enough that I’ve noticed a common set of symptoms keep cropping up.  Like headaches and lack of sleep.  Or canker sores.

Of course, these reactions aren’t warning signs that I’m getting too stressed.  No, that would make too much sense.  Instead, they’re warning signs that I’ve gotten too stressed.  It’s too late to do anything about it, by that point, so why not pile on the added stressors of chronic pain and discomfort?

Help deal with stress by piling on more stress?  That sounds like a GREAT idea! </sarcasm>

I think that’s one of the reasons I’ve been feeling so down this week.  Work deadlines stressed me out last week (I’m still within my new-hire probationary period, so am especially worried about appearing incompetent), which blossomed into wonderfully annoying symptoms this week.  It’s hard to be in a good mood when every time you go to speak, chew, or swallow it sends a sharp shooting pain through your mouth.

I suppose I should consider myself lucky; canker sores are fairly mild as far as these things go.  I don’t get migraines, for instance.  I don’t have “an ulcer the size of my fist,” as my girlfriend is fond of pointing out.  I just don’t like that my body seems to be saying “You screwed up.  Let’s make sure you remember and feel bad for as long as possible!”

I will say this: my girlfriend introduced me to the wonderful thing that is topical oral painkiller.  For as often as I get canker sores, you’d think I’d have sought out something like this years ago.  But no, I usually suffer in silence and wait for the things to pass.  But no more!  Using the stuff has allowed me to eat relatively pain-free (I was letting my blood sugar get low because eating hurt, further exacerbating the stress issue), and made me a much more pleasant person to be around.

I still hate my body sometimes, though.

Uncomfortable Realizations

I’m finding it really hard to write lately. Whether it’s lack of sleep, or just mental exhaustion from my new job, I find it very annoying. But at the same time, I don’t want to stop writing. What is one to do?

I originally started this blog so that I could have a mental outlet that my job at Costco wasn’t providing me. And it was great for that! Even if I put off writing, I could still get a relatively interesting post up fairly regularly. I even managed to hold on to the occasional buffer!

But since I started working in the architecture field, I find myself with a lot fewer resources, both temporal and mental. It used to be that I could write after I got home from work at 2pm and still post close enough to my self-imposed deadline of noon. I basically had the afternoon to myself, free of distractions (well, aside from those I made for myself). But now, I get off work at 5, and my girlfriend is generally home within a few minutes of my arrival. And while I tried writing in the morning, being creative and/or thoughtful while still waking up was less than productive.

I am also using my brain a lot more at work these days. Sure, CAD and construction documents can be fairly repetitive, but I’m new enough (and rusty/inexperienced enough) that figuring out what needs to be done is a challenge in and of itself. More often than not I find myself mentally drained when I get home from work, with barely enough gumption to decide what to do for dinner, let alone what to write about (the irony of this is I often feel better after I eat, but that doesn’t help me make a decision).

Like I said, I really don’t want to have to put this blog on hiatus. I’ve set a goal to write every day, and that is important to me. And for the most part, I’ve done it. Sure, “posting every day” and “writing every day” aren’t the same things (which is how I’ve burned through whatever buffers I’ve been able to conjure up lately), but it’s still pretty close. I guess I’m just going to have to make peace with the idea that if I want my blog to continue (I do), it might suck for a while.

But really, this is only a concern if I’m worried about what other people think of my writing (which I clearly am, otherwise I’d keep a private journal). But if I’m writing primarily for myself, then the act of writing should be enough. And maybe it is, if I’d just let myself see it.

Now if you’ll excuse me, Agents of SHIELD is coming on soon, and I didn’t get a good night’s sleep to start off the week, so I think that’s all I’ve got.

Blue Monday

I’m always conflicted about what to post when I don’t get around to it until later in the day.  I feel silly posting a quick “no post today” note (which, ironically, is itself a post), but it does make me feel less guilty about effectively skipping a day.  But at the same time, my ego doesn’t want to post anything too involved in case it gets missed by people who I imagine read it.

Long story short, I’ve had a Monday.  Not enough sleep, canker sore from too much stress last week, and I’m just now feeling better enough to go to sleep.  We’ll try again tomorrow.

Holes In The Offense

After watching me fight at a recent heavy practice, my knight asked me a question: why wasn’t I throwing shots to the front leg? Was I just not seeing them? Was my helmet obstructing my vision and creating a blind spot?

This got me thinking. Now, I really like my helmet. It’s a flat-topped, closed-face helmet, which I think really looks the part for my persona. The caveat to this, of course, is that I’m looking through a 1-inch slit, and visibility is thus impaired (at least compared to an open-face bar grill). I’ve gotten used to it, and it sits close enough to my face that the visibility isn’t as limited as one might think, but that hasn’t stopped people from giving me grief about it.

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The Hydra Reared Its Ugly Head(s)

My Impostor Syndrome flared up last night, leaving me feeling overwhelmed and generally in a bad mood.  I was able to work through it (more or less), but I think it was triggered by a few different things.

For one, work was fairly stressful yesterday.  It wasn’t that things were particularly hectic or busy, just that I felt overwhelmed by the immensity of the project before me.  I tend to be something of a “big picture” person, so it’s all too easy for me to forget to try and hold all parts of a large project or assignment in my mind, thus being paralyzed by the immensity of the task before me.  In school, for instance, if I had to write a 20-page paper, I’d think “ZOMG I’m going to have to sit down and write for an entire day straight!  There’s no way that’s happening.  I have no idea where to start!” rather than taking it a page or section at a time.

I was also dealing with issues that I didn’t fully understand, which is always stressful.  I’m still within my new job’s probationary period, and thus sometimes worry about seeming incompetent or unprepared.  I know logically that that isn’t the case, but anxiety is not always rational.  So I spent a lot of mental energy trying to wrap my head around things that I didn’t have a good grip on, worried that my lack of experience (because that’s really what it boils down to) would cause me to make some sort of egregious mistake.

And to top it all off, my blood sugar got too low.  Turns out that strenuous mental activity drains one’s reserves the same way that physical labor does.  Of course, by the time I realized this, it was already too late.  To make matters worse, it was also not quite dinner time; close enough that I was hungry, but still a bit too early to feel right.  So what did I do?  Well, in my infinite wisdom (I wasn’t thinking very straight by this point) I decided to try and stick it out.  Big mistake.

I know about all these issues.  But every once in a while I forget, and they rear their ugly head.  Often many at once.  Luckily I felt better after a good night’s sleep; it had gotten late, and I decided I couldn’t trust my brain anymore, so I went to sleep.  And it did help.  I’m feeling better today.  I made some good progress on my projects at work, and the deadlines feel more attainable.  I ate more today, so I didn’t get as low.  And even better, I realized what was happening and didn’t let it drag me down into a complete Funk.  So that’s progress!

Nope

No post today. Work was really mind-draining, so I didn’t get to it before practice. And now it’s late, and I don’t feel like it. Didn’t I have a buffer as recently as last week? Oh well…

The Envy Marches On

The tech envy is really setting in, and I think it might be here to stay. I really wanna build a new computer, but I’m not sure I should.

This is probably one of those things where there’s never really going to be a “good” time to spend that kind of money. Every time I think I can spend the money, something happens. Last month it was my car. This month it was the credit card bills from my pre-new-job shopping spree. Next month, who knows? Maybe it’ll be adoption costs for a dog, or some crazy sale that I just have to jump on. Or student loans. Or car insurance. Or Christmas shopping

There always seems to be something “better” I “should” spend my money on, is what I’m saying.

But I can’t help myself. For better or worse, I’ve started doing research, and coming up with options that may actually be feasible. Nvidia just released a new generation of graphics cards, for one. What does this mean? Well, the previous models are steeply discounted, of course, but even the new models aren’t that pricey (for a mid-to-high card, that is). Suddenly, I’m able to start coalescing around a target budget.

I also ran across this chart on Tom’s Hardware, ranking multiple generations of graphics cards into various performance tiers. Think of it as a Rosetta Stone for the byzantine naming conventions hardware manufacturers use. And for some reason, I thought it was a good idea to spend a good chunk of my free time this past weekend parsing the data and looking for trends (you know, as one does). During the course of this tedious yet compelling work, I came to the realization that the graphics card in my 6-and-a-half-year-old laptop is not nearly the beefy performer I thought it was. In fact, it’s more than halfway down the chart.

I know I should be a responsible adult and pay my bills. But the siren call of new hardware is getting stronger, and I don’t know that I want to be good. But at the same time, I don’t know that I can let myself splurge.

Dorkness Rising

Every group has their rites of passage, those things that they all have in common, that forms a common bond and binds them together. These are the things that inside jokes spring from, that are integral to understanding the group dynamics. That must be foisted upon anyone new who seeks to be a part of the group. Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Army of Darkness.

One of those things for me and my friends is The Gamers: Dorkness Rising.

Pretty much everyone in our usual Friday night “gaming” group has seen it, and if they haven’t we quickly remedy that. What is it? Well, as you would expect most of my friends already know. But for those of you who don’t, it’s a movie about tabletop roleplaying games, and the gamers who play them. And as these things must be when dealing with such a serious and heavy subject matter, it is a comedy.

If you’ve done any tabletop gaming, you will pretty much find this movie hilarious. It pokes fun at the insanity inherent in most player character actions, setting a GM with engrossing (to him) story ideas against his power-gaming compatriots.

But watching a bunch of people sitting around a table rolling dice and scratching notes on character sheets would get boring very quickly. Dorkness Rising gets around this by having the actors playing the PCs also play their characters, who wander around in full garb through the wilderness and various dungeons, seeking to defeat the evil necromancer. This is especially entertaining, as one of the players keeps forgetting that his Chaotic “Neutral” sorcerer is, in fact, female.

There is one caveat to this, however: I’m not sure how funny the movie if you’re not into RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons. There’s something unique to how people react when sharing a communal experience around a table that doesn’t quite translate to other types of multiplayer gaming. That being said, Dorkness Rising does a great job portraying that spontaneity (read: barely-contained caffeine-fueled insanity). If you haven’t seen it, you totally should. And hey, it’s on sale at GOG for the next few hours. It is definitely worth the money.