Friday, February 27, 2009

Role models

When I think about role models, it takes a while before anything shows up in my head. What is a role model? Someone I have looked up to and wanted to be like, I guess.

The funny thing is that the first role models that show up in my head are all fictive people. It's Modesty Blaise (because she had such varied experience, first hand knowledge of extremely different environments and the wonderful skill to get along with people of all kinds -- presidents and kings as well as street kids and poor fishermen), it's Kip from Have Space Suit, Will Travel (because he got somewhere by being smart and knowing things), it's ... from A Very Long Way From Anywhere Else (because he was intellectual and did not really fit in with his peers, but found a way to be himself), and others. It was fictional characters I looked to when I shaped my ideas of who I wanted to be: smart, reasonable, open to new things, and so on. I might not live up to all of my ideals, but they are still there.

As for real people, I tend to admire everyone who is enthusiastic and really involved in things. People who make things happen.

There are also all of those people who have surprised me, and showed me new ways and attitudes. Like two of my fellow PhD students in Uppsala, who one day told me that it happens that they feel really tired and frustrated over their research -- that it sometimes seems hopeless -- and that they would then just lock the door to their office and cry for a while. Just the idea that there were others who sometimes felt like that was a revelation for me -- and the idea that you could actually talk about it was nothing short of revolutionary. I had always felt that if you could not be enthusiastic about your research all the time, you were somehow not worthy. Being frustrated and bored to the point of crying was to me a shameful secret. Maybe, just maybe, this was something that happened to others too? Even smart, successful students!

And then you go on, and another day you will be enthusiastic again, and make things happen.


Clarissa said...

I am usually a tough and extremely patient person. This includes all the roundabouts that my Advisor takes me to when I was doing my Master's.

And there came a point in time when I could no longer hold all those anger and confusion and insecurities in me. And I broke down. I cried a lot that day -- the most I have cried ever since I started my Master's.

And after that day, I kind of have a clearer idea of what I wanted, regardless of what my Advisor tried to persuade me to do. I made up my mind to stand firm on my decisions, and that was one of the best things I have done for myself.

Bottom line is, we all need an outlet once in a while. We take a break, because we know that the journey is still a long way to go.

Scrypt said...

It seems to me that frustration informs virtually every case of sustained human effort. One of my best friends is also a close friend of William Gibson's and I read many of the letters Gibson wrote while working on his first novel, Neuromancer. Despair, frustration, self-doubt, fear of failure -- all were tacit in the letters I happened to read, and none seemed to compromise Gibson's daily work. If Gibson had mentioned weeping with frustration, I wouldn't have been surprised.

Rollo May said, "We live in an age of anxiety. Let that anxiety fuel your novel." Perhaps anxiety, frustration and self-doubt have a place in research as well, and help us to grasp a task's necessity and importance. If complacent people are among the least productive, then perhaps the rest of us are simply feeling engaged.