Introduction from an overeducated underachiever
I stumbled over this site about a week ago when I had the thought, for the first time, to google "compulsive procrastination" (while I was procrastinating, of course). I've been aware for quite some time that I'm a notorious procrastinator, but I guess because of all the cutesy internet memes and perceived shared commonality within collegespeak, I never really saw it as a serious problem. Until, that is, I came across this website and saw serious procrastination identified for what it is: an addiction. I'm a would-be fourth generation self-destructive alcoholic, except that I recognized the family pattern pretty early in life and decided to skip the drink altogether - and any substance stronger than caffeine too, for good measure. This pattern stops with me, I decided. But as psychological research will tell you, it's not the alcoholism that I inherited, exactly, it's the compulsive behavioral pre-disposition toward overdoing it, whatever "it" might be.
My situation is this...I just finished a Master's degree. One of the useless, Liberal Arts variety. How did I manage this? By being an exceptionally strong writer so that my last-minute, "time binged" papers were usually good enough to pass my (mainly science and social science) classes as an undergraduate. And then I took my school's good name and my lackluster GPA to a regional university for the next step where the academic standards were even lower. Lucky for me - though it didn't factor into my decision at the time - this program required neither a thesis nor a subject competency exam to finish...just the successful completion of two internships. And I just barely managed to squeak those, too.
I managed to net the first internship at a high-profile international organization because I "cold-wrote" an acquaintance and asked her. She said "sure" (after all, she wasn't paying anything) and I got an excellent name for my resume. And then, though she remained my supervisor, I was assigned to work on a project under someone else. I was supposed to do research and write a paper. There was a group counting on me, I put in incredible hours and yet the pressure built up and inevitably I buckled and ended up shoving the unfinished report back at the team. Because I had been the focal point on this research for the last few months, the others didn't know where to even start to try to pick up the pieces and so the whole project just sank, disappointing several colleagues in the process. But I more-or-less hid these problems from my nominal supervisor, who I then used to write me a recommendation to my next internship with a different branch of the same organization, this time a competitive fellowship. It felt a little bit greasy but I honestly thought the first experience was a fluke and I would make up for it this time.
I hated this internship. The expectations were justifiably higher this time around and I felt inadequate from the start. Then history repeated itself when I was handed a lucrative research opportunity that I was really enthusiastic about, only I could never seem to hold up my end of the deal. I even received a generous extension, and still I didn't finish the simple report I was tasked with writing. Tail between my legs, I sent back all of the scribblings and documentation I had accrued to a team that was completely unprepared to take on this task. And there was no hiding my incompetence this time around; my supervisor wrote back a scathing review and told me exactly what she thought of my performance. Because of my extension, by then I had already graduated. My degree was locked in.
The prestigious internship that was supposed to launch my career as a junior researcher and published author did neither - instead it brought to light my inability to manage even myself. Not only am I now in the difficult position of trying to find a job without the blessings of two former supervisors, I have also come to the conclusion that as long as I struggle with compulsive procrastination, I will never be able to perform this job - or any job that requires me to produce original content. I'm sad because I love research, I'm a hard, honest worker who's good at writing and I'm frustrated and scared because I'm 25, I have a Master's degree and I feel like I'm too old and too much in debt to not have a career plan by now.
So I'm jumping off the rails again; I'm moving to Southeast Asia to get certified and teach English. I'm hoping English-teaching is one of those careers where you plan for tomorrow and then stop. And then you plan again. Good, manageable bite-sized chunks of...planning. The kind of environment where my good, little Protestant heart can give it my all, every day, and I will not become overwhelmed and burn out because the nature of the business structures my time for me. (You also can't tell a room full of students to come back in 30 minutes while Teacher finishes this last page.) Meanwhile, I wrestle with doubt and even occasional despair. English-teaching has a reputation for attracting slimeballs of different varieties. Am I one of them? Is this a career decision or another form of procrastination with life and independence? Will I make enough money to pay off my two degrees? What about health insurance? Saving for retirement? Can I handle being a cog in the oily machine of private English education?
I joined this site for support and practical advice from day-to-day. I don't know where my career is going - I would love nothing more than to discover a deep, unexplored passion for teaching that somehow excuses my past incompetence in the organized labor force. More likely is that it will feel like an extension of adolescence. And this narcissistic despair at performing below my potential will continue to plague me. In the event that I'm actually good at it, I'm worried I'll find a way to self-sabotage it again. Then I might just take my anxiety drugs, my shining resume and my stack of votes of no confidence to go clean toilets.
My mind and increasingly my life just feels out of control. And all of this after I've worked SO hard to avoid succombing to the destructive behavior pattern in my family. My father (not the alcoholic) is a brilliant and multitalented man in his forties who hasn't held a job in 5 years and has every excuse for why that is - my worst fear is turning out just like him.
*Edit: forgot to sign off in proper, confessional style* :
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Welcome. Keep coming back.
'I joined this site for support and practical advice from day-to-day"
Not sure if it applies in pa but in all other 12 step groups, we do not give "advice" , we share our own experience, strength and hope.
I found that we each have our own path of recovery and you can get support here to find your path.
I actually think you're putting yourself on the right track. There's nothing wrong with running away from something you don't like doing. You clearly don't like academic writing/researching enough. Just because you're good-ish at it when forced to put the work in because of a deadline doesn't mean you should force yourself to do it over the long term. You may have been putting the hours in in 'real life' work, but you've basically admitted that you weren't engaged in your research, as they weren't very
productive hours. And that's okay. Maybe it's not a problem with you; maybe it's just boring as hell (as a lot of academic stuff is - that's why it takes a special kind of person to be a professional academic).
If you're the kind of person who's confident, good with people, spontaneous/bad at long-term planning and thrives on immediate pressure, it sounds like teaching could be the job for you. You may find that you get a kick out of helping people to learn and develop; and being put on the spot by your students, and responding to them, could give you the 'addictive' buzz that your personality needs.
The career prospects can be good - as you've pointed out there is potentially a lot of money in EFL teaching. You're obviously ambitious enough (relax, 25 is not old, and certainly not old enough to be worrying about retirement). Go into it with enthusiasm, put the work in to learn how to teach well; ideally learning from observing other teachers, as paper-based learning is tedious and less effective; stop giving yourself the excuse to fail before you've even started, and ENJOY IT! Cos it should be a great experience! The other teachers are usually young ex-pats from English-speaking countries (not sure where that 'slimeball' comment came from, and no, I've never taught EFL but I know a few people who have) and they're all in the same boat, so you can have a good laugh taking the mickey out of the hilarious things your students say. I think you're overthinking this, if you just commit to doing it it could all work out nicely!
Does a simple commitment work?
My experience is that committing to doing a task ... didn't help me. If I could "just do it", I wouldn't need to be at Procrastinators Anonymous. For me, my own willpower never got me through the compulsive procrastination. I need a Greater Wisdom from something higher, and gentle encouragement from peers. And from those resources I can choose, a little at a time, to grow and change my ways.
In this case, yes!
I may not have communicated that part very well - I didn't mean "commit yourself and you'll magically stop procrastinating"; I meant "stop being afraid of what you've chosen to do" - mentally commit yourself to this new job and realise it will probably be fun, exciting, maybe a little stressful, but only on a day-to-day, living-in-the-moment kind of way, not in the kind of long-term debilitating way that grinds you down over the course of months as you're constantly worrying about it and sinking ever-more unproductive hours into it (academic research can be like this). And if the new job turns out not to be fun, you can always apply for a different job, get it, then hop on a plane and go home!
By all means Jess should be trying to sort out her procrastination problem in the long term, but she shouldn't feel as if she's "running away" by leaving a couple of jobs that she most likely hated. I suspect she knows her own mind better than she gives herself credit for, and what she's running towards is going to be good for her!
Jess... running away?
It sounds to me like you're running away. Maybe staying and facing your problems is the better route. Maybe southeast asia isn't such a good idea. Have you thought of going into therapy? I feel like there may be something more going on than procrastination - or rather, something underneath the procrastination that you need to uncover.
Re: running away
Well, the last disastrous internship was in Southeast Asia so I'm not running away, exactly, I'm returning to the scene of the crime. I've been in and out of therapy since adolescence (and taking psychotropic medication) but now that I'm done with school, I have no health insurance. The medication I can access here, without a prescription, but there is very little organized psychosocial support. I've been stable for more than two years, so I'm not concerned about that. (Famous last words?)
Also, I've done it already for six months; I know what kind of environment I'm going into, I know people and I speak the language. I'm planning to take stock again after a year and see where I want to go from here.
Many of us procrastinate on all aspects of life!
Welcome to P.A.!
By the way, this book might interest you:
Re: Your Own Worst Enemy
Thanks for the book recommendation, movingalong. If there is a Kindle version available, I might just buy it!