Written by Silver Delgado, CSU STEM VISTA 2015-16, CSULA Physics and Astronomy Department
“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them”-Albert Einstein.
When our VISTA group had its Mid-Year Retreat in Ben Lomond, California, I was able to get away from the office, step back, and reflect on my recent accomplishments and disappointments. I have been contemplating why my current efforts have been surprisingly unfruitful.
Was I too straightforward? Did my emails ask too much? Was I being held back? Did I have enough support?
Being a scientist, I thought to myself, how can I solve this problem? The experiment I set up to provide me with a certain outcome has only come up with the wrong results. Being at the Mid-Year retreat I listened to everyone’s stories about how they accomplished their short term goals and how they will go forward after leaving the retreat. I noticed how everyone had some successes and failures during their year, but have bounced back to get the goal accomplished. In a way, I was researching others’ work so I might implement their findings in my own work. There were a few main things I took away from the retreat that I now use to help my project: (1) be open to suggestions from others, (2) do not stress over things I cannot control, and (3) make sure that I take time for myself to recover and avoid burnout.
There are a few things can become challenging when it comes to creating an alumni group if most of the population doesn’t have social media accounts. After researching, I had found that only half of the alums have some sort of social media presence, and one fourth of that group only has emails—and even then, those emails can be obsolete. In order to get more information, I asked a few faculty what they would do in a situation like this, and most of them pointed me in the same direction: snail mail. Initially, I didn’t think this method would be effective since the addresses might be outdated and the letter can be lost in someone else’s mail box, but I took their advice and split my time between this letter-writing initiative and my other responsibilities and priorities. I wrote a letter updating alums on what the physics alumni group is doing and inviting them to upcoming events and to join our LinkedIn and Facebook groups. It is too early to tell if this method will be effective, but I am hopeful.
A very important issue with office jobs is the stress that comes from worrying about things you cannot control. In a research setting, this can be rather familiar: one might worry about experimental data being incorrect, which would be a cause of great stress. In an office setting, one might feel the same amount of stress worrying that certain documents or data findings might contain bad information. In order to overcome this anxiety, I have to remember that if I have no control over something, then I should let it go, just keep moving forward and focus on my next steps. Practicing this mindset allows me to alleviate stress and focus on what I can control to ultimately advance my project.
The last thing and the most important thing to focus on is my own self-care. At the end of the work day, most of the time I’d keep thinking about what happened and what I should do the following day. This type of baggage can lead to stress and depression. My method to deal with this is to exercise regularly and listen to music. From my experience as well as from what I’ve read on many online sites I’ve found, exercise is a requirement for one to be mentally healthy. It helps me gain a refreshed mindset. During the work day, I put on Spotify and listen to music during my break times, so I can remind myself to relax and take a minute to recharge. This ritual has been a great addition to my routine and has led to several inspirational ideas that have been implemented at my work place.
Since the Mid-Year Retreat, I have been able to step back and acknowledge the faults of my methods, work on creating new solutions, and focus on getting the job done. I was able to refresh my mind from all the work distractions and focus on what I wanted to accomplish and what I felt to be most important. I need to prioritize my self-care, because in the past, there where cases when I would put work over my own health. And learning from that retreat, I have implemented new methods to get keep track of both my health and my work. Just like an equation or an experiment, I had to come back to the issue at hand, figure out what went wrong, and focus on solving that problem to get the right answer. By being more open to suggestions, being less fixated on what I can’t control, and devoting more time and attention to self-care, I have been leading a better work life.