Was I more confident 5 years ago?

Man, so I’ve been scraping the 2010 and 2011 drafts for posts (it is insane how many unfinished posts we have), and I’ve been noticing how much more I dunno, prescriptive a lot of these posts are.

Like… how to do cognitive restructuring.  On the importance of moxy.   That post (It takes a village) from the other week about getting out and being with adults was actually written in 2011.  I even have one that ironically talks about our students getting cognitive dissonance when we tell them they have to think in shades of grey.

It’s ironic, because I think as I age, some things get greyer.  Like, meta-grey.  I mean, sometimes things really are black and white and not shades of grey at all.  Sometimes people go farther in life if they ignore ambiguity, even if things are grey.  Who am I to say what is right or wrong.  There’s even a post in here somewhere (vintage 2012 or 2013) talking about how people like to be told what to do, they like to be lead.  And… I dunno, do they?

I do think part of it is I’ve spent the year surrounded by everyone being at least as smart and accomplished as I am and most people even more so.  All my coauthored projects finished in the fall.  I haven’t started anything new, no new collaborations etc.  I’m sort of a silo surrounded by amazing people that I don’t often ask for help.  And it has kind of eroded my confidence a bit.  I do like it better being a little fish in a big pond because for whatever reason, I feel a bit uncomfortable as a big fish in a small pond.  But man, have I got imposter syndrome.  Maybe if I were getting more done, making more progress on my projects I’d feel more confident, but right now I’ve got a bit of “will I ever amount to anything” thing going on.  Plus my big projects aren’t working and there’s too many of them and I’m having trouble finding direction.  And I’m going back to teaching and service and things that make it hard to be productive very soon.  If I can’t get things done while on leave, how will I get them done when I’m working full-time?

If I regain my confidence, will it be a false confidence, and will I realize it is so?  Does it matter when moxy is so important?

So, I dunno, a bit of melancholy to add to the lack of certainty.

Or…. maybe those drafts have been sitting there since 2011 for a reason and I’m just overthinking.

Also… I can see that several of these posts were reactions to obnoxious parenting or personal finance blogs that I no longer read and may no longer even exist.  It’s a bit easier to argue the opposite when someone is saying something ridiculous.

So… maybe this whole trying to compare posts from 5 years ago to now is just another lesson that no, it isn’t always about my internal omphaloskepsis; sometimes there’s an external factor.  Usually it’s something else.  Which is kind of comforting, really.

Has your certainty or confidence changed in the last five years?  Have you noticed any other changes?

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I really do have an addictive personality: 1 week of coffee = 3 days of pain

I’ve talked about my addictive personality before in terms of why I don’t play video games and how it’s difficult for me to get off fora (until I’m kicked off or quit cold turkey).

I almost never drink coffee.  Usually this is because when I get a migraine, coffee + aspirin + sleep is the only way to make it go away, so I want to keep my tolerance low.  But occasionally after a bad night I’ll partake in some decaf or when things are really bad, a full cup of regular.  I almost never do this more than 2 days in a row.  And never after 11am if I want to get any sleep at night.

Recently I had some bad deadline times.  So I drank coffee for a full 7 days, starting with a cup of decaf and ending with 2 cups of regular by the time the week was over.  I started craving it and could feel it making my life better.

Then I turned in the thing and crashed hard.  The next day I had a major headache and had a cup of decaf to try to wean down.  It helped a little but not enough.  When the weekend came, I stopped drinking coffee and ended up in bed with a pounding headache.  I kept wanting coffee so badly.  A little sip of DH’s salted caramel mocha made angels sing in my head, but wasn’t enough to truly make things right.

I still want coffee.

Most people can drink caffeine for 7 days straight (some of them decaf or only half a cup!) and then go cold-turkey with maybe only a little bit of tiredness as an effect.  I can’t.

Most people take longer to become truly addicted to something.  Apparently not me.

I had Valium once prior to a surgery.  If it were available OTC, I would eventually never leave my bed.  I still want Valium.

So, this is why I don’t do drugs.  Because it doesn’t take me long to crave them and to crash when I don’t get them.  And it’s scary not being in control of my body.  Also, I don’t like withdrawal symptoms.

Do you have problems with addiction?  Do you ever wean yourself off caffeine?  How does that go?

Differences between your online persona and your IRL persona?

The blogosphere (including us) has recently been discussing how blogs are only a specific persona that the blogger shows (or curates, depending on your beliefs about the nature of truth and perception and personality).

That got us thinking about how we differ IRL vs. our blog personas.  We thought we’d share some of the differences.

I am a lot nicer IRL.  A LOT.  My snark only comes out with anonymity.  I may think things IRL but I don’t say things unless I can say something nice.  #2, however: I think I might actually be nicer on this blog than IRL.

I’m also more introverted IRL.  I’ve done meetups with groups of forum people and they are surprised that I’m quiet at the dinner table even though I’m super chatty online.  (This same thing isn’t true with people I know well IRL or when I’m at a conference on topics I’m an expert on– I’m perfectly chatty with subject matter I feel comfortable with.)  #2 is super-introverted all the time and prefers online communication.  Or books.

I’m less annoyed about giving an impromptu lecture on my subject matter of expertise IRL than online.  Online it often feels like someone should be paying me to argue with them.  (I know it may seem like this isn’t possible, but I promise, I lecture a LOT IRL.)

What don’t I share with you?  Mostly boring stuff.  I only online share things if I find them interesting and/or funny.  I also try not to share things that would hurt other people if our blog and real identities became front page news.

I’m often not as witty because online you only get the good stuff, not the stuff that failed at being funny or brilliant (at least IMO).

Who is the real us?  Well, what is reality anyway?

How do your IRL and online personas differ?  Who is the real you?

Is “everybody sucks/has crappy lives/etc.” actually helpful for people who are having difficulties?

One of the things I’ve noticed on blogs/fora where the author is having trouble with marriage or kids or work, or what have you, is that often someone in the comments will say, “Oh, everyone’s life is like that.  We’re all miserable/have terrible husbands/rotten kids/awful bosses.  You’re normal.  That’s normal.  Anybody who says differently is a lying liar who lies.”

And this is provided as comfort.

Does it work?

Honestly for me, if I were in a bad situation and got that comment and truly believed it, I might end up being all, “why bother?”  If life is going to nasty brutish and short what’s the point?  Why continue living or striving?  Why not just give up?

I’m glad I don’t believe it.  I’m glad I believe that life can be better.  That marriages can be functional instead of dysfunctional.  That kids can be helped.  That there are good job environments out there if the current one is bad.  I’m not an optimist, but I am optimistic that if I work hard to change things, life can get better.  Maybe not the way I would most prefer, but better than a horrible situation.

The big question though is:  Does this kind of comforting actually provide comfort?  Do people feel better when they’re in a crappy situation and someone comes along and says yeah, all situations are crappy.  (Not, mind you, “it’s not just you” but the more inclusive, “it’s everybody.”)

What does the research say?  It is true that people are happier (and healthier) when they’re at the top of a distribution and can point to people with crappy lives.  This may be why the Koch brothers and others in the 1% of 1% of 1% are trying to destroy America. Big income disparities make people on the top happier than do little income disparities.

But I don’t think it has to be that way.  You’ve got people like Gates trying to bring the bottom up, trying to decrease the income differential.

Research also notes that people who satisfice– who set an external absolute level target– are happier than people who try to optimize.  Maybe if you’re focused on comparisons with others, you’re happiest on top, but maybe you’re happier still if you’re not comparing yourself with others at all.

I don’t know the research on this, but my guess is that it is best to focus on absolute levels rather than relative differences.  Comparing yourself to other people is a sure way to misery because someone will always be better on any level.  (And it must be lonely at the top.)  Instead, compare yourself now to the yourself from before and reach for the yourself that you want to be.

And it’s best if you know that that life that you want to have is actually achievable.  And it’s more likely to to be achievable if someone else is already achieving it.  Because it’s a big world out there, and it would be pretty difficult to be the first person to have a happy marriage, great kids, or a fulfilling job if that had so far eluded the entire world’s population throughout time.

I almost tagged this with deliberately controversial, but I wasn’t sure that it fit (since this is one of those things where there’s so much potential for individual variation), so I stuck with debatable.  Still looking forward to discussion!

What do you think?  Does being told that everybody has your problem (whatever your problem is) provide comfort?  Does it provide despair?  What do you prefer as responses ?

Am I a tiger mom?

Eh, maybe a little.  DH and I push our kids.

We’re not so far up the SES ladder that our kids can rest on their laurels– we both broke into the upper middle class this generation (DH from the rural working class, I’m first-gen on one side and come from a long line of middle-class working women on the other).  And OMG is it nice to be upper-middle class.  The stresses we don’t have that our parents had and that DH’s siblings and cousins still have, I can’t even.  Every day I’m mindful of (and thankful for) this miracle.

We got here from climbing the academic ladder and playing by the rules (and, of course, luck).  From pushing ourselves, and maybe being pushed a little bit too.  Well, not maybe, definitely.  (DH’s siblings, while not upper-middle-class are definitely doing much better than his cousins.) Definitely from being pushed a little bit too.  Our kids will have more freedom and latitude to maybe not play by the rules, but having that academic ladder cleared will certainly help if other ventures don’t work out.

A’s now mean life is easier later.  Challenges now mean that there’s less likely to be complete melt-downs in college.  So we push.  Not to breaking, but occasionally to leaving the comfort zone.  So far the discomfort (often followed by breaks, and then by trying again) has always led to epiphanies and growth, just as it should.

There’s no shame in getting a B, but a B also means that the material hasn’t been mastered.  There’s room for improvement and that’s a target to work on.  So, in that sense, Bs are addressed.  Material is mastered and then some.  Even if it’s not that interesting.  Even if school sometimes has arbitrary rules.

Granted, our kids are truly brilliant, and they’re highly capable of mastering many many challenges.  So it’s easier to have a home with the underlying belief that Bs aren’t good grades.  We have justifiably high expectations.  I have students who, as hard as they try, won’t pull off As in four classes a semester.  But it’s my job to get them to master as much of the material as they can, and it’s their job to try.  If my kids go someplace where they’re truly challenged, then even Cs may be fine as long as they’re still getting where they need to go, but they’re not there yet.

For K-12, A’s are pretty important.  Especially if they’re not going to fancy high schools that colleges know by reputation.  I trust that my kids will work hard and if they don’t get As it won’t be from lack of trying, but I also know that we will work hard to stem any damage by filling in knowledge gaps should a lower grade occur so that it won’t lead to downward spirals down the line.

DH and I have both gotten Bs in our high school and college careers, but not that many.  I think DH even has a C on his college transcript.  And, possibly related, we haven’t always gotten into our top choices for things.  But we keep working and we keep trying.  And that’s the message we want to send to our children.  That’s how we push.

Did you get pushed as a kid?  Do you feel like that affected your adult life?

Enjoying being the smallest fish in the big pond

Since graduate school I have been on the fringes of fame.  Some famous people you’ve probably heard of can pick me out of a crowd if asked.  Even more would say my face looks familiar.  A few may be familiar with some of my work.

I’m at an R1 that has been rising in the ranks.  We hire people who are cooler than I am, which is a good position to be in, and they’re happy to make the move (getting offered an extremely high salary helps).

I have an amazing leave position but my office is definitely the after thought… but I have an office and not a cubicle.

I’m on the fringes.

Right when I graduated it bothered me that I was in the bottom half of my class.  Many people thought my placement was disappointing.  Many people thought less of me after asking where I was going (an R1, but not a top 15 school) or what my teaching load was (average, rather than low) or what my salary was (high but not phenomenal).  There’s nothing quite like being asked those questions and then having the questioner say, “Oh” and turn to talk with a more important person.  I remember sitting at a post-conference dinner with a guy I knew from grad school a year after we’d gotten jobs who hadn’t placed highly (but was still higher placed than me!) bemoaning how he wanted to be one of them but he wasn’t, he was just on the fringe, and he’d always be on the fringe.  And I felt exactly the same way.

Reputation means a lot in economics.  We, possibly more than other fields, use signals to indicate quality rather than letting work speak for itself.  Most of our journals are single, not double-blind.  People at top programs get more benefit of the doubt.  They say it doesn’t happen, that it’s just that quality is higher when you’re a top person surrounded by top quality colleagues and RAs, but I catch myself doing it and I’m aware that I do it (so I’m able to try to counter-act my initial feelings).  Many people don’t have any idea they do it, and, as we know, implicit bias leads to bias unless actively counter-acted.  So it’s harder for someone in my situation to get the benefit of the doubt with publications, especially given a female name.  I’m not automatically accepted to conferences.  I can’t just coast on my reputation or potential.  I actually have to produce.  As one of my friends says, I have to work twice as hard to get half as far.

But I still sometimes get accepted.  I still sometimes get invited.  I get to hang out from time to time with truly amazing people who are doing great work.  Having my university’s star rise means that some of that glory is reflected back onto me.  By having amazing colleagues (who help me do amazing work), it no longer seems like my placement was disappointing.  My teaching load is still average and my salary is no longer “high” (for an economist– it’s still pretty high) but I’m not yet willing to try for an outside offer to counteract years without raises.

And I no longer feel like I’m a disappointment or that there’s anything wrong with being on the fringes.  Yes, life would be a lot easier with more benefit of the doubt and better RAs and more funding and on and on and on.  But I have room to grow.  And just being in the same building as superstars is pretty amazing.  (And, a small part of me notes that many of the stars in my graduate class are no longer even in academia, while several people who were afterthoughts to their advisers have moved up to be professors at top schools after extremely important post-dissertation publications.)

It’s much easier now for me to think of others’ cvs as goals to aim for (and being honest, without an army of highly qualified RAs and a lower teaching load, there’s no way my cv will match my counterparts’ at top schools, but I can still try to finally get a top general interest paper) rather than evidence of my own inadequacy.  People are treating me better and I’m more confident.  I do good work.  And this year I’m spending a lot of time trying to sell it.  And, tiring though that is, and as much as it takes me away from you know, actually doing work, it’s kind of fun.

I like being on the fringes.

Do you prefer being on top or bottom or somewhere in between? Does the situation make a difference?

Solving problems structurally: For scatterbrained people with no willpower

I have no willpower, and this lack of willpower just gets worse when I’m sleep deprived or hungry.  (Don’t tell my mom, but the only reason I didn’t get pregnant in high school is because DH was seriously responsible.)

I am naturally disorganized (with the exception of being vaguely OCD about alphabetizing spices and bookshelves). If I were living alone, my stuff would be organized by having the newest stuff on top and the oldest stuff in the layer closest to the carpet.

My ability to remember all the things I need to do or need to carry or need to have is pretty weak.  I have failed to bring my laptop cable to work two days in a row at this point and am out of battery juice tomorrow unless I go over and put that cord in my bag right now.  Despite my best efforts, I still occasionally have to buy lunch because I left my made lunch on the counter.

I am, however, pretty good at putting together a system of kludges that allows me to function and even succeed– aligning my current actions with my long-term goals.  Reading the Willpower book I was astonished with how much of, “I do that” I actually do.  If there’s a tip or trick for not allowing myself to descend into my basest wants (which are many), I use it.

It’s pointless and way too much effort trying to fix myself.  However, I can change circumstances so that I can still get ahead.  I’ve gotten to know myself pretty well over the past few decades and I’m pretty good at figuring out what makes me tick.

In college, I was forever losing my keys.  So… each time I got a new keychain or key, I would just add it to the one I carried around with me.  Eventually it got so massive that it has become very difficult for me to lose.  People often make fun of me for it, and they often question whether or not I’m hurting the ignition on my car, but the massive structure is easy to find and it’s noticeable when I don’t have it.  Additionally, when I get home, I try to put it in the same place next to the door.  This doesn’t always work, but I’d say a majority of the time it’s there in the morning.

I keep clutter down by not buying things in the first place and by putting unwanted gifts in the gift/donate closet right away.

I am very bad about forgetting things.  My world is full of lists and lists of lists.  I carry a day planner and enter things in as soon as I get them and check the planner every morning.

I have habits and rituals.  Back in college I had a boyfriend who would always say, “wallet watch glasses keys” before he left the room and it often goes through my head as well, though I keep my glasses in the car and never take them out so that I always have them for driving.  Similarly, after opening Stata, I always change the directory, set more off, and OPEN A LOG FILE.  Because the log file will rescue me from many of my other bad Stata habits and mistakes.

Mistakes aren’t limited to coding– part of the reason we have such a big slush fund is to make it so mistakes aren’t so painful.  Last weekend, for example, we got a parking ticket because we were 10 min late getting back to our car.  For want of 50 cents, we owe $43.  But that’s an annoyance more than a catastrophe (and DH has said he’ll pay it out of his allowance since he feels responsible and doesn’t want me to feel bad about it– that’s what the allowance is for, he says).

Mental accounts also help with money concerns.  Retirement savings come straight off the top so I don’t even see that money so it can’t make me feel rich.  I reconcile the checkbook as soon as I get a bill even if I delay the actual payment.  That emergency/slush fund stays in savings and checking is what is supposed to take care of regular expenses.  (And when either the checking or emergency fund number gets too low, it is time to cut back.)

I also have a huge problem with willpower.  That means I do not buy things I shouldn’t eat, unless it’s something I can totally resist (like licorice– yuck).  I have not played video games since my first year of graduate school because once I start I can’t stop.  So I don’t start.  Cold turkey.  A hard line in the sand.

I could try to make myself remember things better.  I could work on myself to try to give myself stronger ability to resist temptation when it comes calling.  Yes, it would be great if I were calmer, more productive, had a better memory.  But, ain’t nobody got time for that.

Do you have problems with willpower?  How do you solve problems structurally?  Have you been successful at changing your base self, and if so, how?