Stress and Strategy

This week was a stressful one for me at school.  In addition to the research project on Indonesia I am doing for my internship I have three other research projects assigned this semester for my degree!  Unfortunately they are all in different areas of study, and when all four projects come to the forefront in one week it can be fairly overwhelming.  The important thing I have found that helps me to be both a good worker at work and an efficient student are to only tackle what is in front of me, and try my best to wipe the other projects from my mind.

One extremely useful thing that I am learning at my internship is how to both follow instructions and take the initiative at the same time.  I don’t think it will ever be useful in a work environment to simply do what is instructed and nothing further, nor will this tactic ever be useful in academia where ingenuity is invaluable.

Luckily the Fellow I am helping with his research allows me the opportunity to chart my own path of research with his direction, mostly giving me his outlines and instructing me on the directions he wants to take and policies he’s most interested in.  He often gives me specific assignments of policies, reports or statistics to hunt down, but outside of that I am free to follow the path the research itself creates and bring my findings to him.

We meet weekly to figure out if I am on the right track or if the information I am finding is swayed one way or another.  He has a deep insight into the project from being stationed in the area, knowing the intricacies of U.S. policy there and in the region, and understanding the nuances of security strategy both in Indonesia’s unique government and in the United States.  I bring a fairly liberal background in the study of the international system to the table, and so I am often captivated by issues that fall outside of the immediate scope of our project, but can also often be useful perspectives to consider.

This week it has been important for me to compartmentalize my projects; keeping myself focused on my project at work while I am there, and then refocusing back to reading case-law on my commute home and during classes and “free” time.  It has also been important to apply the skills I am learning at work to my school projects.  All the practice following research trails at work has led me to consider more interesting and inventive avenues of research on my school projects and so in the end, my experience at work benefits my schoolwork more than it subtracts from it.

In moments of stress, it is helpful to examine your strategy.  With a little bit of perspective and compartmentalization, you can turn out four research projects as easily as one if you can apply the same skills to each and think of all the others as practice for the one you’ve got in front of you.

Disclaimer:  this may be something busy people tell themselves to reassure them that all the work will get done, but there is also no end to the benefits of positive thinking.

(The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the United States Institute of Peace, which does not advocate specific policy positions.)