Friday, June 17, 2011

Failure: The Ultimate Self Fulfilling Prophecy

Over the past couple of weeks I've been spending a lot of time working on this one particular data set. After several hours of tinkering, I'd find a new and easier way that I could have performed the task. I went through this frustration for about a week, then realized my original data set didn't have everything I wanted, and it also looked funky for reasons I'm still trying to figure out. These kinds of revelations take a lot out of me, to the point where I even look exhausted. Moping about the building doesn't help, and sometimes I just need to give up on a project for a period of time otherwise I get too discouraged.

I decided I needed to reevaluated my priorities for the near future. I'm giving a talk next Sunday, and I had been neglecting this looming deadline for months. I dropped the new projects I had been hopelessly working on to give some attention to an old friend: my master's research.

Sadly, the project I did for my master's thesis is only slightly closer to being published than it was a year ago, but giving a talk on the topic injected me with a little motivation. I had started putting together an outline for the paper. I got all the way to the results section, but had to stop because I needed to do some more statistical analyses. What I had so far was adequate for my thesis, but not for anything I wanted to send to a journal. I did those analyses over the past couple days, so not only do I feel more secure in giving my talk next weekend, but I can move on through the results section of my manuscript outline and on to the discussion, the meat of the paper.

Thank God I had this productive distraction from what I had been doing. I sometimes get stuck in a rut where something doesn't go right, and the next thing I know I'm stuck in a spiral of failure. Hopefully when I come back to my other projects I'll be fresh and have a different (i.e. better) outlook. Among other reasons, this is why I like having multiple projects going at once. If I had to keep working on the same old thing, even if it wasn't going well, I'd go crazy.

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