Being Human

I Say R2
Credit: flickr / stu_wp

It’s the day of my paper deadline, I have a horrible throat infection (complete with headache and rasping cough) and I’m just FREAKING OUT because it all seems like TOO MUCH and why why why did I not just hole myself up in my apartment and get on with things? Why did I come back to Europe with the plane bacteria and the jetlag and the horrible horrible weather that I’m afraid to drive my Smart car in and somehow seems worse than in Canada because it never used to be that bad when I lived here.

My friend IM’s me and I just freak out on her. I tell her that I’m stressed about this paper deadline, and I’m sick, and that I’m not going to be finished this semester and honestly I haven’t even looked at when the date I had to re-register by was. She’s great, and says, well what do you need to do? I’m going to stay here whilst you do it. And she says,

It’s a relief to discover that you’re human.

Which shocks me – because this is someone who I respect hugely, who I consider a mentor, and find incredibly inspiring. Honestly, I’ve been convinced since a few days after I met her that she is super human. She is so frickin’ awesome.

And then my dad comes home, randomly in the middle of the day to pick something up, and he asks me how I am and I cry some more and tell him that I feel so ill and that I’m a total failure and that I’m so sorry that I’m not going to be finished this semester but will need to register for another one. And he tells me it’s OK, he’s not mad at me, he’s frustrated by the university (chronically disorganized and terrible at communicating dates etc) and my “supervisor” who, ah, doesn’t actually supervise me.

I’ve been thinking about this lately, because we all seem to think that other people are doing better than we are. They’re more together, more organized, more capable, just doing better at life whilst we flounder though, making it up as we go along.

If I were to sit down with someone else and they’d been having the experience that I’ve had, I would be horrified, angry on their behalf, and probably taking up their cause and trying to find someone to complain to. But, me, I think I should just be getting on with it, graduating in fewer semesters than typical (this is my 5th if you don’t count the one I spent in Shanghai) and somehow just knowing how you write a paper, how you get it published, and how you write and submit a masters thesis without having to ask anyone HOW THE F**K DO YOU DO THAT BECAUSE I HAVE NO F**KING IDEA?!?!?!?!?!

It’s one thing to hold yourself to higher standards than others. That’s how you strive to be nicer, more honorable, more organized, whatever. And, if you’re striving hard, it’s probably necessary to cut others some slack if you want any friends. But allowing other people to be human and thinking that I should be some kind of cyborg is not healthy, or helpful. Let’s be honest, it’s insane.

Other people tell me I’m doing a lot because they see the three papers I submitted this semester, the blog posts I produce every week. I don’t see the day I worked near non-stop from 10am to 3:30am the following morning or the days I work fewer hours, but with furious intensity. I fixate on the weekend I spend in my PJs with my boyfriend playing through my new LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4 game (Amazon). Or the days I slept in. Or that day I just read a novel when I had so much to do, I mean – what was I thinking?!?

I’m not a cyborg. I have to accept that I will have to register for another semester. I have to forgive myself and acknowledge that if it were someone else in my place, I wouldn’t be judging them for it.

But next semester will be the last one. If I’m not done by then, I don’t think it’s worth it any more. I have a great job. I’ll have an academic paper published (come Feb), an industrial one (don’t know when that will be out) and something I wrote (class paper, didn’t try to publish it) is going to be cited in SIGCHI. One more academic paper (working title: Exploring Transient Communities on Twitter) and isn’t that all you’re supposed to get from a MSc anyway? Do I need a fancy piece of paper and a picture of me in a stupid hat to certify that I paid uOttawa a ridiculous amount of money for the privilege?

I can’t beat myself up about this any more than I already have. I could be more focused. I could work harder. I could be more organized. But, I hope the truth of it is that my failings here are pretty insignificant compared to the failings of the system. The guy who was supposed to be my supervisor told me my work was worthless. He hasn’t read anything I’ve done. When I helped my office-mate transform their non-sense “framework” into a cycle he refused to let my office-mate put my name on the paper (it got published, my office mate hated it slightly less after I fixed it). He gave me away saying he didn’t know what I was doing and I should just work with my co-supervisor (who is amazing, but at a different university which means he can’t help me with some things).

If I’m going to be angry, and frustrated… I don’t necessarily have to start by being angry and frustrated at myself.

So, there it is. I’m human. Flawed. Inadequate. Scared. Overwhelmed. Angry. Exhausted. Lost.

Not a cyborg. And I think that’s for the best. Because if I never melted down, I wouldn’t be pushing myself. And I would never have those moments where someone else reaches out to me and they understand, or sympathize, or help in some way. And it seems to me like they have a super power, that cyborgs will never, ever have.

6 thoughts on “Being Human

  1. Cate!
    So sorry to hear this is a rough time for you.
    Just know that you are right, you are very demanding of yourself and you deserve to give yourself compassion and understanding, as you would others. You are an amazing woman, and I am proud to know you and cheering you on…you already accomplish so much!
    Great blog post, thanks for sharing so vulnerably; your perspective on the situation is commendable, and I hope the feelings of panic/failure do not last long!

    1. Rachelle, thanks for the encouragement 🙂 It seems like every time I have a post that I’m hesitant to hit “publish” on you leave me a comment that tells me it was worth doing. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that!

  2. I hear your voice so loudly, that sound of empathy is like hearing a pin drop – and this is just what you are gaining, as you process your own human limitations.

    This time will stand to you way more than any of those uber-successful ones. I promise.

    I watch my daughter with such joy, as she flys through life, with the gifts from me and her father. And I know that she will reach those tougher times, and then I can share with her my own, and how I came through them, what I learned, what I didn’t process so well, and what I pushed through with strength (and maybe the occasional grace).

    I have liked your blog for awhile now – this piece affirms it all the more.

    1. Thanks Meggin, I hope you’re right. I worry it’s negative on here lately, but I feel so much more need to document the things I struggle with than the things that succeed – because I learn so much more from them. A tweet is sufficient for something I want to celebrate. But a failure? That I need to analyse and deconstruct and leave a trail so that I do better next time.

      Thanks for reading 🙂

  3. Hey Cate,

    Sorry I’m a bit late in the day to respond to this (Kate mentioned this post over Christmas), but much of what you’ve written sounds familiar.

    I bought a lot of books on start-up culture just before Christmas. As I make my way through them, have begun to feel a little jaded with Seth-Godin style preaching, however (!) there is one theme that sticks out and indeed this one on “being human”.

    A couple of the books (Rework & The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working…?) flag up that we are designed to spend and consume energy. We work best in bursts. We need sleep, exercise and time to play, in order to deliver optimum results. We’re inconsistent (compared to machines), but that shouldn’t be perceived as something negative. We’re not machines and as such our output is fantastically diverse, creative and flexible.

    Somehow we’ve found ourselves in a culture, environment where we have to perform 24/7… be “always on”, present ideas on demand. We focus on output not on process.

    The fact that we don’t [always] perform well in such conditions isn’t a fault of our design, it’s a fault of how we’ve designed the system. It’s ridiculous that such common sense should be confined to start-ups and it’s equally ridiculous that someone as clearly capable as you are should have to beat yourself up because you can’t deliver consistently. Genius extends well beyond production-line, bland and bloated, mediocre contributions.

    Being human isn’t a weakness by any standard, but if we’re going to survive [well] in an increasingly digitalised knowledge universe, we’re going to have work in a more human way.

    I realise this is a long comment and you will no doubt have experienced many better days since. 🙂 Hope I’ve made a reasonable interpretation of your post…Really looking forward to meeting you later this year and discussing this further over beers/cocktails or simply cake and coffee!

    Rachel

    1. Rachel, you’re right on – thanks. I wonder if I’ve been screwing up my perspective by reading all these books – like Gary V’s “Crush It” for example that say “work harder” and not much else. I need head space to be creative. Rework is a good one (time for me to reread?) – the 4 day week to allow people to have a life? Love that. I think 20% time will be good for me for similar reasons.

      I am doing better, but still a little lost. Thanks for the comment. I’m gutted I didn’t get to hang with you and Kate over the holiday – between the snow and being ill we couldn’t make it into Edinburgh from the borders. But we’ll hang out in April! 🙂 I’m looking forward to it.

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