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?