I’m really bad at confronting things.

My second internship ever: I was barely a sophomore in college, and doing some shell scripting for a local Richmond company for around ten to fifteen hours a week along with my regular coursework. I had been doing it for around a month when I was offered a second internship in Williamsburg – same hours, better pay, more interesting work 1, and it was right on campus. I knew I didn’t have the time to do both, so my plan was to just quit the first one. It was kind of a shitty move, but we both went into it knowing that the timing would be tricky and they were fully comfortable letting me walk away if I didn’t think I could handle the workload.

On Friday, I drafted an email to my manager explaining the situation and asking if he and I could talk. I ended up not pulling the trigger on it, because I didn’t want to send him something right before the weekend – I resolved to send it to him Sunday, so it’d be in his inbox and we could talk about it Monday.

Then I guessed it would be rude to send it over the weekend, so that I’d send it Monday.

Then I figured better to not send it first thing in the week – and you get the idea here. I ended up dragging out the process over three weeks, where I was basically phoning in my effort and agonizing over the timing. Each “nah, it can wait” had this awful snowball effect on my stress level; after it had been seven days, it was that much easier to make it eight days – but that much more stressful since I was so far after the fact. By the end, this act of clicking a Send button that I felt slightly guilty about turned into this grey cloud that surrounded an entire month.

Like I said – I’m really bad at confronting things.

This isn’t something I’ve grown out of. A couple months back, I spent some time on a collaboration with a client that, as all things do, grew into an elaborate bikeshedding exercise via GMail. It got to the point where I couldn’t stomach opening the thread anymore – I had grown so conditioned to dread opening my email that I’d archive it on my phone.

I was agonizing over reading an email. Like, how is that rational?

After like a week of this agony (where I got to the point that hearing the ding of a new email on my phone summoned a miniature panic), I took a deep breath 2 and finally opened the email. It was fine. There were three tiny comments that took like ten minutes of development. And then the whole thing was done and resolved. My stress evaporated. I celebrated with a steak.

Every time, it’s the same exciting process:

  • Get scared about minor thing
  • Anxiety
  • Don’t do minor thing
  • Time passes without doing minor thing
  • Anxiety grows
  • Minor thing suddenly seems more major, because of time and anxiety
  • Anxiety conquers all
  • Finally summon courage/energy to do minor thing
  • Anxiety gone

I can remember getting trapped in this awful feedback loop at least a dozen times. Literally every time the thing under the bandaid turns out to be insignificant compared to the anxiety I create about ripping the damn thing off. I’ve never come away from one of these things and been like “ah, shit, I really should have kept putting that off.”

And yet, the cycle continues. Putting off an email for an hour turns into a week. Avoiding revisiting a failing integration test until after lunch turns into constructing entire classes to avoid dealing with it. The bandaid gets infected, the mind grows pained.

Me writing this post isn’t an epiphany. I’ve known I’ve had this problem for a while, though perhaps my diagnosis of it’s symptoms is now more acute. I don’t think hitting make s3_upload and sending this off into the ether will magically make me better at this. But it feels at least therapeutic to commit this thing to words, to cast a little light on it and hope that the next time I play a few rounds of squash with my amygdala I can end the session a little earlier.

(Plus – as you might have guessed – I’m writing this to avoid ripping off another bandaid.)

  1. Which led to my ongoing love affair with Django, no less! [return]
  2. Okay, and a deep glass of scotch. [return]
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