T Nation

Nervous About Success


#1

For the last 6 months I have been coordinating changing my career direction and lift direction in general. I did a lot of thinking between March and May of this year, which culminated to a lot of writing and self reflection exercises and I decided after a 3 year hiatus to go back to school and get my PhD. I know deep down it is what I want to do, but I am not going to lie I am scared shitless of the responsibilities and commitment that it will require.

Fast forward to today, between many emails, telecons, university visits, interviews, etc, there is a very strong chance that I just landed a once in a lifetime opportunity. A "dream career" some might call it. This is something Ive worked towards all my life, and had many setbacks along the way, and a few years ago I almost walked out of my field and gave up everything for a more simple life, but I pressed onward and "ignored" those feelings of doubt.

And now, here it is, right in front of me. Literally, a vision of something Ive seen myself doing since I was 5. All I have to do is fill out an application, get the necessary paperwork done, and finish up 1 last telecon after Thanksgiving (to finalize project details) before the ball gets rolling.
I'm pretty scared ironically, almost avoidant, and I don't know why. There is a burning feeling deep down that says "Don't do this, run away, go live on an island and be a bartender!", but Im not one to let fear run my life. I have a few options now though:

One possibility was that Id start in January. This is pretty rare for a PhD to start (usually due to funding cycles) but I was told funding for me wont be an issue. I was told that if I start in January, essentially I will be made a director of a new facility being built. It is an amazing opportunity and I will have a great deal of responsibility. On some level I feel like it is too soon. I feel like I need to enjoy my life a little bit more. But maybe I am more afraid of not succeeding. I really don't know.

So the point of this thread is for me to vent and talk to people who I think are like minded and goal oriented. I guess I am having some trouble dealing with "success neurosis", will I be able to live up to their expectations, do I have enough energy to carry out the tasks they are asking of me, will this take away from my ability to have a social life or get involved in a serious relationship, am I having enough fun in my life. Maybe these questions are silly.

Either way, I have the opportunity of a lifetime in front of me and I feel like a deer caught in the headlights of a big train coming my way.


#2

Congratulations! I am genuinely happy for your, especially since you’ve expressed your frustration several times on here. Here’s one of my favourite quotes by Rory Miller:

“Lonnie Athens posits that one of the reasons that change is hard is that no matter how screwed-up your life, how horribly you are being victimized or how clear it is that death is inevitable on your current path, you are alive. Your subconscious mind […] is very well aware that your big plan to change your life is just that, a plan. Subconsciously it knows that planning is a game, THIS is real and it will try to stick to what works.”

Your life is not fucked up or in danger (hopefully) but the idea stays the same - your subconscious doesn’t like change. Don’t let it fool you.


#3

My advice to you is learn Excel. It’ll help immensely…


#4

…but on a serious note - congrats. What you’re feeling is pretty normal, I think. I am in a pretty sought after and rigorous grad program at the moment (masters) and I had similar feelings of apprehension; If this is what you REALLY want to do, keep going through to motions for the time being knowing you’re going into a place where you want to be - keeping in mind there will be a lot of hard work (which I’m sure you’re more than capable of doing) between jump street and the finish line.

Once you actually start doing the work, you won’t notice or have that feeling of apprehension. Good luck - can’t wait to hear all your veiled-brag posts about your journey and bashing of us with lesser programming skills -_o


#5

[quote]polo77j wrote:
…but on a serious note - congrats. What you’re feeling is pretty normal, I think. I am in a pretty sought after and rigorous grad program at the moment (masters) and I had similar feelings of apprehension; If this is what you REALLY want to do, keep going through to motions for the time being knowing you’re going into a place where you want to be - keeping in mind there will be a lot of hard work (which I’m sure you’re more than capable of doing) between jump street and the finish line.

Once you actually start doing the work, you won’t notice or have that feeling of apprehension. Good luck - can’t wait to hear all your veiled-brag posts about your journey and bashing of us with lesser programming skills -_o[/quote]

If you work hard someday you can be king too. Haha, thanks. Excel sucks dick. Fuck Excel.


#6

I think Aero51 and Carbiduis should have their own little sub-forum to post their stories. Justliftbrah could post there every once in a while too.


#7

’ Don’t snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. ’ comes to mind when I’ve been riddled with doubt while facing a good opportunity.


#8

[quote]Aero51 wrote:
One possibility was that Id start in January. This is pretty rare for a PhD to start (usually due to funding cycles) but I was told funding for me wont be an issue. I was told that if I start in January, essentially I will be made a director of a new facility being built. It is an amazing opportunity and I will have a great deal of responsibility. On some level I feel like it is too soon. I feel like I need to enjoy my life a little bit more. But maybe I am more afraid of not succeeding. I really don’t know.

So the point of this thread is for me to vent and talk to people who I think are like minded and goal oriented. I guess I am having some trouble dealing with “success neurosis”, will I be able to live up to their expectations, do I have enough energy to carry out the tasks they are asking of me, will this take away from my ability to have a social life or get involved in a serious relationship, am I having enough fun in my life. Maybe these questions are silly.
[/quote]

I’ll relate a few things from my experience. Maybe helpful, maybe not - I understand that we’re all different creatures. But I see a little bit of myself in this passage, so here goes.

I finished undergrad in 2008, went straight from undergrad into graduate school, and got a Master’s degree in 2010. Before starting graduate school, getting a PhD had never really crossed my mind - I figured I would get my Master’s and then go get a real job, whatever that meant.

Halfway through the Master’s, I had a cool summer internship at the Graduate School of Public Health, and was more-or-less invited to apply as a PhD student. Sure, what the heck, I don’t know what I want to do yet anyway, might as well. Received my PhD in 2013, got a job and went to work.

During graduate school, one of my professors told me something that really helped me. I was remarking about how little I felt like I really understood about our field, and how I had the impression (as many of us probably do) that I was supposed to know it all when I graduated. She told me that “Graduate school is when you realize how much you DON’T know.” This made me feel better; I realized that even in obtaining a very advanced degree, you’re not walking away with a certification that you know EVERYTHING about that field, but a certification that you know basic principles of that field as well as HOW TO LEARN additional concepts when called upon.

Fast-forward a little bit. About eighteen months after completing my PhD, one of the cardiologists here approaches me with an offer very similar to what you’ve described; I am now the leader of a (small but growing) statistical group that is meant to support research in cardiology, cardiac surgery, heart transplant, and a few other niches in one of the largest hospital systems in the world. I wondered at the time, briefly, if I was actually ready to do this. It was the same feeling that I had in graduate school - Should I know more? Will they find out that I don’t know EVERY SINGLE THING about statistics? Ultimately, I realized that these were silly concerns, that I knew as much (or more) about the field than anyone else they would find for the job, and that as I encountered new questions and issues, I would be able to figure them out along the way, even if it occasionally requires a Google search or two. I took the job. Eleven months in, I’m absolutely delighted. It’s not easy work, but it’s very fulfilling, with good people, and I feel tremendous sense of accomplishment with each new project that gets completed.

As for the last part of your post - will you have time to get to the gym, have a social life, have a relationship. Yes…if you actually let yourself do that. It is possible to be a hard worker and still have those things. There might be some late nights at the office; there might be some early mornings; there might be some times when you have to bring work home or answer emails late at night. But ultimately, if you manage your time well and do good work when you ARE in the office, you should still have time for those things. You just have to manage your time well. Most days I’m up at 5, in the gym at 6, in the shower at 7, and en route to the office by 8. Put in 10 solid hours, leave at 6, have a good dinner, enjoy some idle time in the evening. Plenty of time on weekends to travel, go do social things, or just lay on the couch and watch football.

Obviously I do not know the specifics of your position, and it’s absolutely possible that your position will have a lot more work than mine. But I read enough similar-sounding stuff that I felt compelled to reply & share my experience. I vote go for it…IF this is what you think you really want to do.


#9

YOU WILL BE FINE.


#10

Just wanted to say thanks for the commenters.
I’ll be finishing B.Sc in April, and have been having doubts/uncertainty about next step.


#11

“Greatness is upon you…seize it!” -Oedipus


#12

Good luck.


#13

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant,
gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking
so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously
give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
our presence automatically liberates others.


#14

I’ve got my PhD, and I can assure you I know nothing. Haha.

Accepting that every new answer produces 10 new questions is a fact that every scientific researcher has to accept. Don’t kid yourself that you have to know all the answers before starting something new. My post-doctoral research is in a completely different field from my dissertation work. I had to start from nothing, but the PhD process essentially teaches you how to adapt to new challenges and troubleshoot problems. You may not be “the expert in the field”, but you are driven to learn and succeed. Don’t let fear and worry wreck a golden opportunity.


#15

As for lack of socializing during the PhD, quit worrying; some of my best memories were from parties during grad school. Yeah, there will come times when you have to drag yourself to lab after a long night drinking. However, work/life balance is an important skill for anyone to learn. You will just have to manage your time a bit more carefully. I was still able to lift consistently during my PhD as well (although I did have to overcome my fear of working out early in the morning to do so).


#16

[quote]ActivitiesGuy wrote:

[quote]Aero51 wrote:
One possibility was that Id start in January. This is pretty rare for a PhD to start (usually due to funding cycles) but I was told funding for me wont be an issue. I was told that if I start in January, essentially I will be made a director of a new facility being built. It is an amazing opportunity and I will have a great deal of responsibility. On some level I feel like it is too soon. I feel like I need to enjoy my life a little bit more. But maybe I am more afraid of not succeeding. I really don’t know.

So the point of this thread is for me to vent and talk to people who I think are like minded and goal oriented. I guess I am having some trouble dealing with “success neurosis”, will I be able to live up to their expectations, do I have enough energy to carry out the tasks they are asking of me, will this take away from my ability to have a social life or get involved in a serious relationship, am I having enough fun in my life. Maybe these questions are silly.
[/quote]

I’ll relate a few things from my experience. Maybe helpful, maybe not - I understand that we’re all different creatures. But I see a little bit of myself in this passage, so here goes.

I finished undergrad in 2008, went straight from undergrad into graduate school, and got a Master’s degree in 2010. Before starting graduate school, getting a PhD had never really crossed my mind - I figured I would get my Master’s and then go get a real job, whatever that meant.

Halfway through the Master’s, I had a cool summer internship at the Graduate School of Public Health, and was more-or-less invited to apply as a PhD student. Sure, what the heck, I don’t know what I want to do yet anyway, might as well. Received my PhD in 2013, got a job and went to work.

During graduate school, one of my professors told me something that really helped me. I was remarking about how little I felt like I really understood about our field, and how I had the impression (as many of us probably do) that I was supposed to know it all when I graduated. She told me that “Graduate school is when you realize how much you DON’T know.” This made me feel better; I realized that even in obtaining a very advanced degree, you’re not walking away with a certification that you know EVERYTHING about that field, but a certification that you know basic principles of that field as well as HOW TO LEARN additional concepts when called upon.

Fast-forward a little bit. About eighteen months after completing my PhD, one of the cardiologists here approaches me with an offer very similar to what you’ve described; I am now the leader of a (small but growing) statistical group that is meant to support research in cardiology, cardiac surgery, heart transplant, and a few other niches in one of the largest hospital systems in the world. I wondered at the time, briefly, if I was actually ready to do this. It was the same feeling that I had in graduate school - Should I know more? Will they find out that I don’t know EVERY SINGLE THING about statistics? Ultimately, I realized that these were silly concerns, that I knew as much (or more) about the field than anyone else they would find for the job, and that as I encountered new questions and issues, I would be able to figure them out along the way, even if it occasionally requires a Google search or two. I took the job. Eleven months in, I’m absolutely delighted. It’s not easy work, but it’s very fulfilling, with good people, and I feel tremendous sense of accomplishment with each new project that gets completed.

As for the last part of your post - will you have time to get to the gym, have a social life, have a relationship. Yes…if you actually let yourself do that. It is possible to be a hard worker and still have those things. There might be some late nights at the office; there might be some early mornings; there might be some times when you have to bring work home or answer emails late at night. But ultimately, if you manage your time well and do good work when you ARE in the office, you should still have time for those things. You just have to manage your time well. Most days I’m up at 5, in the gym at 6, in the shower at 7, and en route to the office by 8. Put in 10 solid hours, leave at 6, have a good dinner, enjoy some idle time in the evening. Plenty of time on weekends to travel, go do social things, or just lay on the couch and watch football.

Obviously I do not know the specifics of your position, and it’s absolutely possible that your position will have a lot more work than mine. But I read enough similar-sounding stuff that I felt compelled to reply & share my experience. I vote go for it…IF this is what you think you really want to do.[/quote]
Great post


#17

Not to hijack the thread but your situation strikes a particular chord with me* and holds some parallels to my own. Perhaps my ruminations may be of some use (and allow me to vent a bit too)…

I find myself in a similar cross-roads position to yourself. I’m in my mid-twenties and have worked in oil and gas for 3 years. When I was studying my undergraduate engineering degree, I became interested in physiology (partly sparked by reading the gear boards and articles on here) and contemplated doing medicine. Feeling I should at least try what I had just spent 4 years studying for, I went and got a job as an engineer and while I have made some good money and enjoyed my time, I find the work isn’t all that challenging (nowhere near the level of academic stimulation you had at university and no real thirst for it in the company) and the politics and instability of the industry make me question if I can do this the rest of my career.

Long story short, I relayed all this to a senior colleague who encouraged me to apply for entry to an MD program and I ended up being successful in getting a spot at a good medical school. Now presented with the opportunity, I have cold feet. The prospect of again being a poor student working long, poorly paid hours, possibly at the expense of relationships and social life is daunting.

I think I have reached the conclusions the above posters allude to- it’s really up to the way you approach it and the fact that you need to look at the big picture:

  • Will you regret not taking the opportunity a few years down the track (feeling as though you, “snatched defeat from the jaws of success”)?

  • Social life and relationships do not necessarily have to evaporate, merely change form a bit. Perhaps your current partner may not fit with what you have to become- if you have your life in order (as ActivitiesGuy sounds like he does), you’ll find someone who fits in eventually and this will likely be better in the long term.

  • Faced with similar deer-in-headlights decisions in my past, I have taken the leap and haven’t regretted it yet. “I’d rather regret something I’d done than something I never did”.

    • I couldn’t help but sign up- I’ve been lurking T-Nation for years for the training articles (as well as the epic stories that came with the old GAL boards before the purges…).