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29 August 2005 @ 02:55 pm
A self-examination regarding job stress  

I've been falling back into my old habit of excessive, unfounded worrying (unfounded because it's almost always over nothing). One of the things about myself that desperately needs improvement. It's been a problem of mine since at least middle school onward. At times, I wouldn't be able to (and sometimes still can't) concentrate on anything else because I was/am worried about something (stupid and minor) to the point of fixation.

What did I worry about? Grades, mostly. Sometimes about other things, but usually about grades. I guess you could say I was pressured to do well; to my mom, nothing was/is more important than a good education, and if I wasn't making top marks, that was a big problem. To illustrate the point, she once enrolled me in tutoring in sixth grade because in one quarter, I was earning the equivalent of a B in Language Arts. I was told to do my best and that was all I could do, but even so, if I didn't bring home straight As, privileges were revoked and stern talking-tos ensued.*

After sixth grade, I didn't make a single B again through twelfth grade. Anytime I got close (or perceived that I was getting close), I worried about it. And worried. And worried. When I was in high school, I'd stress out to the point where I'd sometimes wake up in the middle of the night with really bad stomacheaches that hurt for hours. I'd also usually throw up, and would feel even worse afterward. It got to the point where I actually spent a day or two at home once because it was thought that I'd finally given myself an ulcer. Since the symptoms cleared up pretty quickly, that was ruled out, but drinking Mylanta with every bit of food and drink for a day or two straight was pretty scary.

I knew worrying was hurting my health, I knew I had to stop, but I couldn't do it by just telling myself to. Then I got to college, and I don't know what clicked exactly, but my worst worry habits fell to the wayside. I sometimes agonized over courses I didn't think I'd be able to pass (only to get As in them- or, in two cases, Bs), and thoughts of exams/homework I hadn't gotten to still filled my head on a regular basis, but the stomachache bullshit stopped, at least.

And when I graduated and found a full-time job, I thought I'd finally kicked the worry habit for good. I mean, fuck, I was working at Initech. I didn't give a rat's ass about the end result of my work, 'cause I knew it really didn't amount to jack or shit. I knew that whether I really busted my ass or just did the bare minimum, I'd get paid the same. I was so mellow at the beginning of working there that I surprised myself- especially since I became the one telling my fellow recent college grad friend Meg not to stress out as much as she did.

Then, all the former relationship crap... meh. And then lo, a better job in a better place and a much, much better relationship. Stress equals zero! Even though I became a teacher and was essentially doing something every day that would've mortified an earlier Minna (i.e., public speaking before strangers), I was perfectly cool with it at first.

And yet, as time has gone on, I've gotten less comfortable doing it. I get more and more nervous and apprehensive the day before/day of class, and sometimes the thought of teaching Monday doesn't leave my head all weekend. I have to stop this now before I spiral back into worse worrying behavior, the kind that could start wrecking my health again. So I'm using this space to rationalize why I worry and why it's not worth my time/effort.

Reasons why I worry:
1) Classes I haven't taught before. I haven't yet figured out how to pace the material, I may not be entirely comfortable explaining it to someone else, and I have no idea if the software/exercise material will behave the way it's supposed to. But, I spend a reasonable amount of time beforehand studying and preparing for each new class. If I feel less comfortable, I should spend more time preparing instead of worrying. Once I'm as prepared as can be reasonably expected, that's as much as anyone can expect of me. Shit may hit the fan involving computers or software, but until I'm in charge of maintaining and developing said computers/software, I can't blame myself for this. I should just spend a little time figuring out what to do if something blows up to keep class going. Beyond that, I shouldn't be spending any time thinking about it.

2) Places I haven't taught before. Another thing that makes me squeamish. What if I get lost? What if they're not properly set up? What if they're in another friggin' state or something? And it doesn't help to get screwed over with multiple trips in a row, as I've recently been. Well, I can only bitch so much about the schedule and travel arrangements. For the most part, I have to deal (though I am trying to get a rental car out of them for my upcoming slew of trips). That said, I know how to look up directions and allot plenty of time to get somewhere new. I also know how to stop at gas stations and ask for directions if I get turned around. So getting there should not be a cause of worry. As far as their setup goes, that's entirely their problem. I've been at onsites where too many people showed up and there were too few computers. I've been at onsites where the freaking software wasn't installed yet. In both cases, nothing was severely compromised and everyone was happy with the class. So, this shouldn't be a cause of worry either.

3) Problem students. I have actually spent evenings before class heavily distracted/distressed by the fact that I'd have to face down one or both members of the Dynamic Duo the next day. Or sometimes, I just worry generically about having students in class who won't listen, aren't good enough with computers for what they're trying to learn, etc. It pisses me off to admit this, because I shouldn't let anyone get under my skin that badly, least of all people like that. I know that a class with one of these people in it isn't going to run as smoothly as I'd like. I know I'm going to be asked questions that will cause the left half of my brain to stage an anti-stupid coup that the right half will need all its creative ingenuity to quash. But, ultimately, the world doesn't wither and rot. Class doesn't run overtime. And I wind up with a whole bunch of new, hopefully humorous after-the-fact "Can you believe this shit?" anecdotes. So, fuck them.

4) I do get paid differently depending on performance. I was salaried at my old job- meaning I got paid the same no matter what. Doesn't quite work that way in this job, where a big chunk of my monthly pay hinges on my students' evaluations of class. To a degree, I can affect what evaluations I get. I will work as much as possible to assure good evaluations, making class as interesting and informative as possible. But to another degree, I can't affect what evaluations I get. Some people plain don't listen to the instructions on filling out evaluations. Some people are just natural-born assholes who'll complain about anything under the sun. Out of my hands. Yes, it sucks when there are enough assholes in a month to wreck your chances of getting bonus, but it's not like I'm living paycheck to paycheck. I'd say that bonus is pretty critical to my pay, but thank goodness, I won't starve or be homeless if I don't get it.

5) Miscellaneous "what-ifs." The kinds of shit that'd plague you anywhere. Not worth even thinking about unless they happen.

So now, let me channel myself from my past job, pre-shit-hitting-the-fan: No job is worth any amount of stress. It'll get done and done well even if you don't spend hours fretting over it.

Ah, cathartic. ;)

* I now think this highly ironic. Consider the following:

Minna Krissy
High school 4.0 GPA (Valedictorian) 2.xx GPA
College 3.97 QPA, BS in Computer Science/Business from U. of Pittsburgh (Summa Cum Laude)
Attending Robert Morris University (aka Bobby Mo) part-time, majoring in Business Mgmt
Age of first full-time job 22 18
Age of buying first car 22 18
Age of buying first home N/A 21
Current age 23 21

Apparently, Mom's predictions about our relative futures based solely on education have so far turned out to be shit (though a happy kind of shit, as I'm very happy for my sister's successes).

P.S. I have no friggin' clue why the table is bumped down the way it is. Sorry!

Aikidoka, dreamer, seeker, general purpose geekmanycolored on August 29th, 2005 08:35 pm (UTC)
I fully appreciate the irony of your table. The message sure seems to be that smarts and hard work only pay off if you have the perfect cocktail of connections, in-demand skills, "luck," and a personality that thrives on speed, stimulation, and competition. (I lack that last bit. A lot.)

100.something GPA in high school and valedictorian.
3.89 GPA at Siena (and boy was I pissed when I missed Summa Cum Laude by 1/10 of a point)
3.999... GPA in grad school (MA/MLS) and graduating in Dec.

Granted I'm a humanities girl, and the humanities don't pay. There is such a glut on librarians in the area that I'm struggling to compete with librarians with an MLS and 20 years of experience for the part-time librarian positions that pay $10/hour.

Theoretically, I could probably have been a manager or project lead for some lucrative bullshit or other, but it's more likely I'd be burned out and sucking down Prozac smoothies to get me up in the mornings.

It can all be properly blamed on my crappy career planning, but I've known for a long time that I'd rather deal with no money stress than "I hate the work I do, I hate the kind of people I work with, I hate the regimentation, and I hate myself for not having the integrity and courage to do what I love" stress.

I can say that for the moment, while we have health insurance and can afford rent and food. :-p
Miusherimiusheri on August 30th, 2005 12:46 pm (UTC)
I know the feeling. There's a sharp decrease in demand for computer types these days (and the ones who do get hired usually come from overseas). I was one of the lucky ones to find a job only a few months after graduation at a time when entry-level computer jobs in Pittsburgh were exceedingly rare. Most people that graduated and stayed in Pittsburgh didn't find work for closer to a year.

Even so, it was a QA/testing job, not programming, and I just don't have the patience and meticulous (read: anal) nature necessary to enjoy that kind of thing. I could have moved into programming where I worked, but I saw what kind of hell the developers went through- not really developing their own code, but trying to fix the messes left behind by other people, heh. No thanks!

I agree about prioritizing what you want to do over other concerns. I'm still figuring out what it is I want to do, though ;)

I wish you luck with your job search- and if there's anything I can do to help, let me know! I worked at a library in Pittsburgh for a couple of years in high school, if you'd like a reference there, heh... though I'd prefer to keep you around here!