A different person

I’ve been on edge for a couple of weeks. Life’s good, that’s not the issue, but yet I didn’t feel happy. It wasn’t anything at home, but rather work following me, haunting me, until well after work hours.

Nights awake were no exception.

Several manuscripts – led by me, supervised by me, or in other ways co-authored by me – all came on my desk at the same time. Some were new submissions, several others were in advanced stages of review but required work that took longer than expected. It’s a luxury problem. A problem I love solving. I doubted that this was the issue.

I’ve also been writing a grant proposal with my boss and several other collaborators. It took me a fuckload of time to get this in an order that I was satisfied with, and sucked up a lot of my energy.

On top of this, I applied for a position in the Netherlands late last year. I wasn’t too sure that I wanted it, to be honest. Yet, people I trust and respect encouraged me to apply. That includes my boss, by the way. One thing I respect a lot about him is that I could have a proper conversation about this with him. This isn’t true for most bosses, and many job switches seem to occur in complete secrecy. He did suggest to me not to share too much with people around me, such as my team. This is a hard thing for me. I’m an open book. Besides, I have a fantastic team to work with. Just the thought of leaving them now felt wrong in ways I cannot describe in words. And yet I applied anyway. I mean: what do you do when literally everyone tells you that you must…? (Okay, my therapist said fuck all of them. If you don’t want it, you don’t need to apply for anything. I didn’t listen.)

So life at work was increasingly stressful, but not unbearable in terms of the tasks. I just felt worse and worse about the things I was working on, because they were in direct conflict with the position I applied to.

Then I was invited for an interview. To be honest, the interview I saw as something to prove to me that this would be the mismatch of the century. Instead, we had quite a pleasant conversation. It wasn’t match made in heaven, but there was a good vibe. This department does stuff that’s quite different from what I do, even though I collaborate with several of its members. I think I could have a good time with the people. Different directions, but I could probably have fun with it regardless. What I was not so sure of, is whether I was ready for a move back to the Netherlands, especially to a place I’m not super familiar with. I wasn’t sure I was ready to leave now.

Over the weeks that followed I grew grumpier and grumpier – angry even. Every little thing was too much for me. It spilled over in my personal life, where I probably wasn’t as nice a partner or a dad as I usually try to be.

I felt fucking miserable.

Then I received a round of reviewer’s comments on a first author manuscript, followed by pretty harsh comments on the proposal I worked on.

Criticisms on your own thought babies hurt the most.

All of it culminated in an edgy, asshole version of me. Someone I vaguely recognized from a far and forgotten past.

(Yesterday, I felt like just smashing some windows.)

(Instead I put stuff on fire in our fireplace – a slight relief.)

Why was I so angry?

Today, I received an email informing that I was not selected for further interviews. It was a nice email, including some feedback on why, etcetera. Not all rejections are like that.

Reading the message brought a smile to my face.

The tension in my shoulders and neck released.

A weight was lifted.

It didn’t feel right to consider leaving. Maybe it was the timing. Maybe I like what I built up… Maybe it was my awesome new house here. Maybe it was the potential new location. I don’t know what it was.

What I do know now is that I immediately felt excited to work on a continued future with my team, and collaborators here in Germany.

This evening I came home a different person.

I was happy.

I’m looking forward to the future again!

I know a time will probably come where I have to leave. But never again will I apply because people tell me to. No thanks. I’d rather be happy and choose myself.

Published by Robin Heinen

Father of two | Husband | Entomologist and Ecologist | Postdoctoral Researcher @ TUM | Traveler | Coffee Addict

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