Experiment #6.2: We Grow Stronger

I never expected the last post to take off like it did; the intention was to explain to some of my mentors, advisors, and friends why I was pursuing what seemed like a totally random life change. But to all of you who read it, thank you... since I wrote #6.1, I have received hundreds of emails from men and women all over the world. The responses have been all over the place - from supportive to heart breaking to angry to "well you never liked research anyway" to "you read my mind" to "you said all the things I have wanted to say for over 30 years and couldn't ".

What is my response? I am flattered, I am humbled, I am heartbroken, and I feel right. People still keep trying to tell me I'm making the wrong choice or that my circumstances are so unique that they could only possibly be happening to me. Speaking honestly, I avoid talking about the blog post in person because the conversation never ends in a supportive fashion - it ends with people trying to justify their own choices and try to come up with reasons why I failed in this system (i.e. there was clearly something wrong with you - you were living in your office). That's fine... it is white noise while I am trying my damnedest to push past the make-or-break point in data science.

Yeah, one drop of blood at a time >:O
What is my internship like? I'm just starting Week 5 out of 7, and it's been the craziest emotional rollercoaster I've ever been on. For me, Insight has been like trying to run a marathon at a 400 m pace - everyday for the past 4 weeks I have woken up and pushed myself intellectually, physically, and emotionally to develop the best possible product I can (check out ActiveMe). For the first 3 weeks, I was keeping pace with the group well. There were set backs, there were nights of 3 hours of sleep, frustrated swearing at my computer screen, cups of coffee, stress runs, and the overwhelming joy that comes from feeling like you're doing a great job. I wouldn't have had it any other way.

 In Week 3, I started to struggle - we transitioned from writing code and the data science aspects of our project (scripting in Python, machine learning, analysis, and visualization) to web page interface and development, and I was terrible at this. Believe me, I would love to tell you all about how great I was at using Flask and creating buttons that would translate into actionable items in Python, but I wasn't. However, I saw it as a sprint and made it work - I pulled the late nights and I made the necessary sacrifices to come into Friday of Week 3 still jogging with the group, albeit exhausted.

In Week 4, my situation deteriorated rapidly as we began hosting our webpages. Whereas all of the other Fellows struggled and agonized their way through to a successful completion by Wednesday night, my project completely collapsed by pure unluckiness. Really - I can't begin to describe you how unlucky I was in my choices of software packages, browsers, etc. and how what had seemed like a rock solid project suddenly was crippled. I had no way of anticipating this - it could have happened to anyone. On Wednesday night I was told by someone brought in to help me "Well, I'll be honest, you're depressed and you're pretty fucked". The next day, I was put into 'remedial Insight' where I was on Skype (well, technically Zoom) with our Program Director all the time trying to salvage my project and get things to work. On Friday night, she told me "We won't kick you out, but this needs to work by Monday". This was bad.

Lo versus the monsters of her mind
What was going on in my head? This is why I am writing this post - I have never had such a rapid total mental collapse in my life. On Tuesday, I was scared and starting to panic. By Wednesday, I was hysterical and sobbing near continuously as I realized the depth of the shit I was in. I was on Skype for hours with kind people trying to help me, but the project was moving backwards. I cried myself to sleep that night and woke up Thursday morning crying, cancelled all my meetings that day and holed up in my room desperately trying to fix what seemed like an impossible task. The other Insight fellows watched on in horror as their formerly exuberant and loquacious Fellow suddenly was sobbing silently her way through company visits and missing deadlines.

Why was it so bad? I was failing. There is no 'I felt like I was failing', I was failing. I was missing deadlines. There was no excuse - everyone else was fine and making the deadlines, they were filming their videos for demos and starting interview prep while my project continued to spiral out of control. This thing that I had wanted so badly and I had poured myself into was just gone and my future went from "It will be OK" uncertain to "I have no choices" uncertain. Forgive me my naivety and relatively easy life, but this was absolutely terrifying and I was pushing myself too hard to cope appropriately. On Thursday afternoon, all I saw was black - my project was never going to work and this dream was over.

And here's why I am still in Insight today - because I was ready for this. My cumulative life experiences have led me to this point today; from the little ones like being told I wasn't smart enough to take AP Euro in high school to the big ones like having my boyfriend/best friend tell me I lacked the intelligence and resilience to make it through a PhD. Each one of these things has become a part of me, and I called on all of these experiences this past week to make it through and keep trying. How many punches could you take before you gave up?

An amazing statement in a gem of a book

I realized the depth of my strength this week as I faced each error message (each one taking between 30 seconds or 7 hours to debug) out of the 300+ I worked through. When it got to be too much, I stopped and went for a walk. I took a whole night off to go for a bike ride and out to dinner. I relied heavily on my other Insight fellows and program directors, and it was a collective joy when my webpage was hosted and working Saturday night at 1 AM, 4 days after it was supposed to be completely done (which on Insight time scales basically was like taking a year off graduate school). After my mental collapse on Wednesday/Thursday, I woke up determined on Friday to make this work and played chase. I caught up by sheer determination, unabashed begging for emotional and intellectual help from anyone and everyone, and this deep resilience to make it.

When I first looked at my working webpage, so many thoughts crossed my mind, but more than anything, I felt love. I felt the love of all the people who had brought me to that moment - from my parents who gave me a quiet place on Saturday to focus to my other Insight fellows googling alongside with me to trouble shoot problems instead of sleeping or going out with their friends. I felt the love of my friends and mentors who had carried me through previous hard times and had helped me learn how to cope and pursue. I felt a tremendous love for myself (!) - I have come so far and I am so proud of this woman I have become who won't quit. I have always wanted to be this person - who won't take no, who runs the extra lap, and who sees dreams as superposition of successes and failures - and now I really know this is me.

Now as we switch to interview preparation, I feel like this was all meant to happen. This was the last piece I needed to endure and prove to myself that I am where I am because I have earned it. Of course it hurt to get here, but for me, it's all worth it to be able to look at my webpage and know that I created it because I am strong.


Lo

2 comments:

jbortnik said...

I was on the edge of my seat reading your blog post Lois. I thought I was going to have an anxiety attack right along with you ... well done!!! Well done indeed! I hope interviews go brilliantly next week.

Lois Keller said...

Thanks Jacob!!! I feels awesome to have made it through :D

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