Wednesday, January 16, 2013

10,000 Hours

Let’s talk about doing hard things today, shall we?

I am not the most adventurous soul, but I seem to keep pursuing hard things even though I know I prefer the comfort of my blue couch and a book.  A neuroscience PhD, a long-distance relationship, a marathon?!?  I mean, seriously: what the fuck was I thinking?  That’s not me!  I’m fuzzy socks and a plate of cookies and early bedtimes.  And yet, I think those cozy things are all the more comforting because I have this strangely bold side of me that says, “Let’s do it!  Let’s move to Texas, to a town we’ve never visited, to work on a project that remains TBD, with a boss we’ve met once!”

Which brings us to present day.  Despite being a bit of a basket case—fueled by chocolate and anxiety!—I do tend to believe that things will work out, so you might as well make the best of your situation.  I am a very pragmatic person, so I’m unlikely to yammer on about fate or higher powers or whatever, but things have a way of working themselves out without requiring you to have a nervous breakdown.  So I try to be kinda chill about things, even if it’s hard.

I’ve been reading Quiet by Susan Cain, and she mentions the work done by Dr. K. Anders Ericsson, in which he claims that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at something.  I was curious, so I did the math: 10,000 hours is five years’ worth of 40-hour work weeks.  The reason that 10,000 hours stuck in my mind this week?  I’m back to working on a technique that I suck at.  See, I’m so bad at it that I even resort to ending my sentences with prepositions!

The technique goes something like this: dissect teeny-tiny organs out of a fruit fly, put them in tubes, apply several solutions that are designed to mark specific cells with fluorescent labels, mount the organs on glass slides, and look at them on a fancy microscope.  This technique is a way of analyzing gene expression, and I am not so good at it.  I got away with not doing much of it in grad school for various reasons, but it’s a technique that I really should master as a postdoc.  I know this, my boss knows this, and yet I still feel like I’m not very good at it.

That’s probably a bit of an overstatement.  I’m okay at it.  I’m still not good at it, and I find myself avoiding the work whenever possible because I have decided that I don’t really like doing it.  Which is, I think, self-defeating behavior.  So this week, I have decided to embrace the challenge.  I don’t have 10,000 hours to work on this one technique, but I can create pockets of time and more importantly, I can tell myself that I enjoy the challenge.  That I have all the time in the world to dissect and label and fiddle around with the microscope to get the right images.  I can do what needs to be done without overthinking it and (hopefully) with minimal procrastination.

I can do this.

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