Thursday, November 13, 2014

The importance of being earnest

It's been a long time since I've written, or have typed anything on my keyboard that does not start with

"Hi [insert client name],

Kindly find the [file name] as attached.

[Insert sign off of choice]
Claudia Wong"

I have had urges to publish in-between this dry bout of writing, but the ideas will not flow and some how after writing my thesis, it seems even more difficult to write personally, fluently and freely. I've literally started working 1 week after my thesis submission, and many have thought me insane to start working so soon. However, with mounting debts, ageing parents and escalating financial commitments (insurance premiums cost a BOMB), there is little choice in the matter.

I'm jumping ahead but I would like to say that these 2.5 months of working have brought so much insight, happiness and frustration. Choosing to do my masters was a decision I'll not regret, but it doesn't mean it comes without consequences.

Well, for starters, it's not easy to take instructions from someone who has had 3 years of experience ahead of you, but is the same age/slightly older than you. They are not your friends, nor are they your buddies. They sit above me and handle accounts/problems higher than my pay grade. The struggles of feeling impotent despite being higher qualified is something that caught me off-guard. There is a difference between saying you'll learn from the bottom and actually doing it.

Having said, it is not to say that masters students are "looked down", we just have to cope without the privileges we're used to in an institution. Here, we are infants.

And on that note I've been making so many mistakes at work - some involuntary, some voluntary, some contextual. It's hard to explain without violating confidentiality. But generally, I feel I can do better, but can't because I just don't have enough experience. It's not about who has the skill set, but rather who understands the processes better. The latter is truly down to experience - which puts me, a fresh masters student, at a disadvantage. On one hand, I am expected to do better than a fresh graduate, and on the other, I am also new so mistakes are bound to happen. What is worse, is that we now don't work alone. Many things we take for granted: our own system of naming files, how we organise our raw data etc. Just today I was told that I can't put rates in a bar chart and absolute volume in line graphs because it doesn't make sense mathematically. It seems obvious now, but during then, it wasn't - and it's all down to experience.

Having a prolonged education has made me more patient and more observant - especially given the training as a social scientist. However, the feeling of being in this place is truly like an infant being thrust into the noisy and bright world with strange faces staring down at you. As a baby, you take in everything and one's sense get so overwhelmed, the brain's reaction is to numb and shut down. That was exactly what I did during my first few weeks here, and in some ways I shut down when the information becomes overwhelming. This shut-down mentality is bad because I'll miss out things and instead of compartmentalising, I should be extending and linking processes.

It's like learning all over again.

And gosh it's exhilarating.

When we communicate with others, we sometimes forget to communicate with ourselves - to negotiate the processes within when we are confronted with an entirely new environment. These spaces and worlds are so emic, it is very difficult to explain to anyone who is not in the same place as you. I suppose that's why it's hard to explain our work to anyone, because words is a pale metaphor of the challenges that lie within the day-to-day  of those who actually work there.

In any case, my weaknesses in work are exposed precisely because the environment demands from me my best. When I asked for a challenging career, I need to keep reminding myself that in every challenge, we are called to do our best and in the process of doing so, we also show our worst. Unfortunately, the former is taken for granted and the latter is not tolerated. Recently, I regret starting too early, because the break is definitely much required to reset my outlook. This "work as a break from academia" is not good, and I find my current work suffering. It is difficult to let research go, and at the same time with pressing financial concerns, I cannot undertake a PhD right away. Now being in this career, it's like I've finally lived the pages of the books I've read about. The sad thing is, I can never really share my analysis with anyone because the academese will probably turn my colleagues off. It's a delicate liminal position of living between two worlds and can I do both exceedingly well? Unfortunately, the answer is increasingly - No.

To be honest, I miss academia because of the freedom and individuality. However, at the same time practical matters have pretty much dictated my fate for me - and in a way, this current path isn't all bad, and I just have to embrace it fully in my heart. That will take time and hopefully, not too much as well.

But the learning never stops, and gosh I hope it never will.

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