Today was the first day back after the long Christmas break. I was about 1/3 as productive as I wanted to be. But, in the spirit of yesterday’s post, I am not miserable about it. I am not freaking out about what everyone else is / was doing. I am relaxing, taking the long view, and spending my evening doing fun stuff, knowing that the manic deadline-looming 4 am writing nights will come, like they always do in academia.
In my less-than-productive day, I stumbled across this woman – one Beautiful Existence (yes, that is her name). In 2013 she decided to only eat or drink anything from Starbucks, or a Starbucks affiliated / inspired company. Crazy. And probably inadvisable. But while I would not recommend it and I have no desire to try it, I did learn something from it.
When I first heard about the challenge on CNN my thought was a horrified ‘Oh my God, what a terrible idea, how dreadful’. Then I read about her results on Buzzfeed expecting tales of soaring cholesterol and addictions to ambien (a sleeping pill) and sentiments about Starbucks is really bringing down the world from within and we have to get rid of the venti or we’ll never solve the obesity crisis. But after reading her story, I came to the much more prosaic conclusion of ‘oh wow, nothing really changed for her’.
It hit me: really, this was not a catastrophic thing. There is no need to fear eating Starbucks for a year. You’ll be fine. It seems a big deal: it’s really not. It reminded me of 2009, in the last month of my PhD. Things were crazy. I left writing my actual thesis to the last minute and ended up writing a chapter a day, except for my methods, which took 2 days. At the same time I was co-leading an international summer school, and had joined a large multi-center research group and promised to develop some new methods for them on the analysis of sibling data. And I had my usual papers and work due. One day, it all got on top of me and I started to sob. Sob, sob, sob. Sob so loudly my ex-officemate Claire heard me all the way through two wooden doors & across 2 corridors in the other side of the building. She came to my office and, when I finally unlocked the door, said
“OK. Let’s make a cup of tea”
[it is very important that Americans understand just how integral tea is to solving all British crises. I recommend it].
But then, amidst my howls about how I could not possibly do it all, she said:
“OK, what would happen if you did none of it? Not a single thing?” I looked at her. “What would happen if you didn’t write your thesis?”.
“Ummm… my supervisor would be annoyed, and I would hand it in a bit late”.
“OK, what would happen if you did not get the summer school curriculum together?”.
“The students would still show up… we’d give them some lectures from last year… someone would bail me out”
“OK, and what would happen if you did not run these analyses for the multi-center group”
“They’d be annoyed. Their paper would come out a few weeks later”.
Ah. I see what you did there, Claire. No big deal. None of this is as catastrophic as it seems.
That is kind of what this lady’s Starbucks venture was to me: seemed horrendous and terrible and full of awful consequences. In reality: not a great idea perhaps, but no biggie. So, this is why I am not working tonight: it is not the end of the world that I had a bad (unproductive) day. There is no need to fear losing my job, never submitting another grant, never getting another paper out. I am learning to stop listening to what those around me are doing and go at my own pace. I could be unproductive for a whole week if necessary, and be fine. I could survive off Starbucks for a year and be fine.
We are lucky: we get a lot of chances to adapt and correct. Sweating the small stuff is overrated. Don’t give in to fear. Love life. Smile. Relax.
By the way – my thesis was in early and passed without corrections, the summer school was a roaring success, and I got one of my best publications out of the multi-center analysis group. Go figure.