Saturday, 28 March 2015

Once more with feeling

My boss used to have a theory that if I were presented with the opportunity to confront the things that I was afraid of doing, and succeeded in doing them, then I would grow and develop and feel more confident about doing them. It turns out he was wrong. He's stopped trying to send me to conferences and customer sites now.

There was the time I took over at the last minute from a colleague whose wife was going into hospital to have her gall bladder removed. I went to a conference and presented a talk. It went perfectly well, and I only had one of the obligatory conference arseholes who asked a question that was not designed to elicit information from the presenter but was intended to show off how clever the arsehole was. I still don't know (or care) whether my instrument could handle the isobaric interferences of different tomato flavonoids. I was presenting on a new instrumental technique not on a specific application area, arsehole. Nonetheless, despite it going well, I'd still lain awake almost all night beforehand worrying and I'd still rather quit my job than do it again.

Then there was the time, which I mentioned previously, where I sat vomitting with fear in the departure lounge of an airport on my way to a customer site. That was certainly the last overseas customer site I visited.

Then there was the course that I helped to run (at our office) for a group of European PhD students. We were training them in some basic instrumentation diagnostics, electronics and lab practice. (And it still boggles my mind that PhD chemistry students from all over Europe came to our poxy little office and lab to be shown how to use an oscilloscope and they were delighted and impressed, because it wasn't something they'd ever been taught...) Anyway, I digress... Part of the training course was a lecture and practical I gave on ion detection techniques. And it was that lecture that the professor who was accompanying them decided to sit in on. A physics professor. Listening to me talk about physics. Gulp. BUT, it went splendidly, and at the end the professor even told me it had been very good and he'd learnt things he didn't know! Go me! Maybe he was just being nice, but on the other hand, I've heard him talking to bigwigs from the Home Office that it would have paid him to be nice to, and it turns out he has an alarming tendency to speak his mind, so I shall take his praise at face value.

And now? Now we have five engineers visiting from China to be trained on how to use the instrument they've bought. Not just how to use it, but how to maintain, debug and tune it when necessary. So we have four days, divided into 8 sessions, of which I am responsible for 3. The first one is the same ion detection training I've already done, the next is essentially turning the reference manual (that I wrote) into hands-on training, and the last one is basically the "any questions?" session at the end of the fourth day. So I know that I can do the ion detection section, and I even know it's good, as a physics professor told me so. And I literally wrote the book for the hardware section, so it can't be that hard, can it?

So why was I awake at 4:30 this morning, worrying and thinking and thinking and worrying about what I still needed to do, and what if they thought I was a fool, and what if it all went horribly wrong, or what if their English wasn't good enough to follow what I was saying, or what if they already knew it all, or what if... what if... what if...?

Welcome to my world.

A world where doing something you've done before, that you've been told you're good at, still fills you with fear.

A world where you end up so tired and so worried you feel physically sick.

A world where you can only think of all the things that might go wrong.

A world where you can ignore all the evidence before your eyes about your own abilities and your own competence and still believe that you can't do it. That you're a fraud. That someone is about to "see through" you and you'll be found out as an idiot.

And I'll go to work next week, and I'll run the training sessions, and they'll probably be fine, and I'll wonder afterwards what I was so worried about. Until the next time...

I've been awake for just over 16 hours now. And the clocks go forward tonight. I think I might go to bed. And tomorrow I'm going to find my CBT notes about black-and-white thinking and catastrophising and remind myself of the techniques I started to master last year, because it looks as though I've let go of them more than I thought I had.

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