Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The game of "let's see what happens next"

When I was much younger, I frequently entertained suicidal thoughts. This might be an over-generalization, but I have a suspicion that anyone who has never contemplated suicide has never fully acknowledged that they have choices in their life. Feel free to correct me on that if you disagree. So there I was, a young person who had confronted the fact that I didn't have to keep living. I was also confronting the fact that in many ways, life sucks. How I got through those moments might seem rather counterintuitive at first glance: I reminded myself that the option to kill myself would always be there for me, whenever I felt I needed to take it.

That realization was surprisingly liberating. While the option to die would always be there, the option to live this life would not. Once it was gone, it was gone. Even if you believe in an afterlife or reincarnation, this life we're living right now is only here for a moment. So I started thinking - why not hang around and see what happens next? If life gets really really bad, I don't have to keep going. If it gets better, won't I be glad I stuck it out? Well, it got better, and here I am, living a pretty decent life if I do say so myself.

I'm using that technique again now. No, I'm not feeling suicidal again, but thank you for the concern. What I have been doing is getting started in the lab where I'm going to be working on my Ph.D. after a a semester and a half of "research lab speed dating," i.e. research rotations. It's a great big period of adjustment and a lot of hard work. Sometimes I get discouraged and start questioning whether I'm cut out for grad school. I was getting really stressed out about it, when I realized I could use the same strategy. I realized that if I'm truly not cut out for grad school, the option to quit will always be there. The option to take advantage of this opportunity, not so much. So it has become my plan to treat every day in grad school as a little experiment in itself: let's just go to the lab and see what happens.

It was just as liberating this time around, too. I encourage you all to try it.