Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Dear Kate - December 2013 Edition

The namesake of this advice column is Katharine McCormick, who graduated from MIT with a B.Sc. in Biology in 1904. Among others, she was the benefactor of McCormick Hall, a suffragist and a philanthropist.  We hope to continue her legacy and dedication to the advancement of women through this advice column.

Dear Kate,

I find myself spending lots of time worrying about relationships when I should be focusing on my research and classes. My boyfriend is in grad school about four hours' drive away, and while I see him as often as possible, I've started to have feelings for other guys at MIT, and that conflict is keeping me up at night when I need to be catching up on the precious little sleep I get. How can I make sure to keep my work and personal lives separate enough to get things done, while not neglecting one or the other?

Time-Crunched and Confused

Dear Time-Crunched and Confused,

They say long term relationships don't work out, but I beg to differ. Both my brother and closest friend are married to women they dated long-distance for well over a year. It is tough, but it can work out. When it's the right person, it doesn't matter where they are emotionally or geographically, things have a way of keeping you together. That said, you should consider whether your conflicting feelings and thoughts are borne of the sad realization that your long-distance boyfriend may no be "the one."

It's easy, and to a degree necessary, to be distracted from intellectual endeavors when one's heart is going through a lot, like you seem to be. First off, that's perfectly fine! Secondly, remember that you are not alone! Reach out to friends, family, or even a counselor, to help you sort through it all. Go for a walk, read a good book (in atoms!), find a spot where you can feel connected to earth, whatever makes you feel calmer.

At night, when women's minds tend to get busiest, like Wanda Sykes once cleverly pointed out, try breathing deeply and slowly through your nose, listen to soothing music and picture this: each thought or feeling that comes up, is like a puppy that runs to you. Play with it briefly, then invite them to move on. Keep picturing this as thoughts and feelings come up. It's a technique I picked up at yoga class, and it's helped me get through many a sleepless night!

The bottom line: allow space in your mind and heart for all thoughts and feelings. The conflict often arises because we think or feel we shouldn't think or feel a certain way. No such thing! Every thought and feeling have their place in your mind and heart, so let them be!

Take good care,
Kate O.
Kate O. graduated from MIT with a Master’s Degree in an engineering discipline.

Thank you to the Dear Kate student contributor and to Kate O.! If you have a question that you would like to ask our panel of experts (GWAMIT mentors), please submit it here.

1 comment:

  1. Please see the below comment for some additional helpful comments from Riva Poor, one of the GWAMIT mentors. Please feel free to add to the discussion yourself by commenting on the post!

    Dear Time-Crunched and Confused,

    The word for the state of mind that you've described is obsession. Here's how to get rid of it.

    First, we ask the function of the obsession; that is, what is the obsession accomplishing in your life? You've already spelled this out; namely, neglect of your work.

    Now ask yourself, What will neglect of your work, if continued long enough, accomplish? Obviously, it will spoil your success and, if it lasts long enough, it will lead to outright failure.

    Next ask yourself the function of spoiling your success? That is, what good thing would lack of success or outright failure bring to you? Or, conversely, what bad thing would major success bring?

    Many people fear success. Among brilliant young women like yourself, often the fear is that success will spoil social life of one type or another - people won't like/love me - whereas failure will preserve it. This is false, of course. Usually, the instant a woman realizes that this is what she's doing, the obsession lifts.

    But there are many reasons behind obsessions - all of which turn out to be false. Why? Because if they were true, the mind wouldn't need to trick you into spoiling your success. For example, I knew an out of work MIT alumnus who hadn't even tried to get a job for an entire year. It turned out he believed (falsely) that he was such a great sinner that if he achieved any more success than he had already earned, God would strike him and his entire familoy dead. (As in a story in the Old Testament.) As soon as he realized this, he got himself a job and continued his highly successful career.

    You need to find your "reason."

    And time is of the essence. The longer you obsess, the more your work will suffer. Therefore if you can't immediately put your finger on why success feels so dangerous to you - and thereby eliminate the obsession - I suggest you seek the assistance of a therapist at the MIT infirmary. They're very experienced with this kind of self-defeat by brilliant MIT-ers like yourself.

    Best wishes to you,

    Riva Poor

    SM 1970
    MCP 1968
    Harvard GSD, 1966"