[I’m INFECTED: Life As a Virus, Inc. Intern] School/Work Balance – The Journey to Thesis

All right!  So I have five blogs due tonight, at 500 words each.  This is what happens when I let things pile up!

First off, it’s been…a month or so since my last update.  A lot of things have happened since then, and I’ll be getting to all of them (I promise), but we’re going to have to do this all in semi-“chronological” order for these Intern Logs to make sense.  So let’s pretend that we’re kicking off somewhat immediately after the last blog (“Crossing Functions“), and we’re building up from there.

So.  All right.  What happened after I “Crossed Functions” for (approximately) half a week?  Well…I didn’t go into work for a week.

In my defense, this had nothing to do with the fact that I was “crossing functions” as a QA (quality assurance) person for development/basic CMS (content management system) “programmer” (really, just inputting articles and photos and looking out for formatting errors).  In reality, this had more to do with the fact that my thesis defense was (had been?) looming and, try as best as I could, I could not divide my attentions between work and thesis, as both required significant amounts of my brain.

Honestly, I should have taken the break sooner, so I could have gotten it done faster, but I didn’t–something that I didn’t exactly get a tongue-lashing for, but I did get a somewhat-stern admonition from Rashmi on the need to take breaks when needed, as well as one from André on doing what I needed to do.  Under the weight of the advice of my two supervisors, I finally decided I was at a loss and needed a few days off to finish my thesis, so I filed a two-day leave, worked in Tully’s Coffee Shop along Exchange Drive (with my work email running in the background so I could at least keep track of what was happening), and returned just in time to help field a multiple-pitch deck storm (featuring the fastest decking and most rigorous mental calisthenics I have ever had to do in my life, but more on that–and what I learned from it–in the next post).

Seriously, that is what happened.  But that is not the point of this post.  The point of this post is the lesson I learned from it, which is never over-promise.

In agency speak, this adage means to always have a conservative estimation of what you can do for a client when you pitch.  Advertising, for all that it is associated with “lying,” actually lives and dies on honesty–if you over-inflate what you can do, you often find yourself biting off more than you can chew.  The same goes for life, really–never over-promise or over-commit your time and energy, because it only looks worse when you burn out in the middle of something you swore you could do.

(I guess I should say something about not swearing there, too.  I kid.)

In my case, I “over-promised” myself by not admitting earlier that I honestly needed time to take things easy.  Pride motivated me to do my best impression of a powerhouse employee, but the fact was I wasn’t an employee–I was a student intern, emphasis on student, with academic responsibilities that needed attending to.  I thought that, like in my student days, I could simply pull all-nighters to complete the work, while doing Virus stuff by day, but apparently my body’s gotten old in the interim between fourth and fifth year–I can no longer pull productive all-nighters anymore.  (That’s another thing I’m being constantly admonished to do by Rashmi: SLEEP!)

The worst part was that I over-promised beyond what was required.  I was taken on as an intern with the full knowledge that I would have academic responsibilities and that these would need attending to and would have to take priority.  Asking for leave to get those things done would have been par for the course, except for my pride.  A part of me–a really stupid part–still wants to believe that she can do it all without help, but the fact is, everyone needs help: needs breaks, needs breathers, needs time to “do what you have to do.”  And I should have asked for that sooner.

The key to balancing responsibilities is to admit that you need help meeting them, and asking for it sooner rather than later.  Admitting to myself that I couldn’t work and finish my thesis at the same time–no matter how I believed that a “model employee” should be able to do so; that actual masteral candidates have done it so I should too–was a humbling illustration of that fact, as well as of the core value of never over-promising, which is to always have an honest estimation of what you can do.  It may not always be accurate–challenges are meant to push us to greater heights, after all–but it provides a good baseline, and a great indicator for when to ask for help.

I asked for help by taking those two days (Monday and Tuesday) off, and when I got back on Thursday (Wednesday was a holiday) I came back with no pressing severely engagements, no niggling responsibilities: a clean slate that allowed me to face the challenges of deck-making and pitch-strategizing, and actually be of help.

How I managed to help, though…that’s a story for Journal 2/5.



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