Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Of High Standards and Pressures

It's been a long time since I've posted here. I miss it, but sadly blogging is one of the first things to go when I get busy. I've been traveling to a conference, which I hope to write about soon (and which I allude to here at Engineer Blogs). But instead of getting bogged down in all the things I'm behind on blogging about, I'm just going to start in with what's on my mind.

I've had two people in the last week tell me that I have very high standards for myself and that I'm under a lot of pressure.

And this has stuck out in my mind (not only because of the separate sources this came from) because first, I don't really think I have high standards, and second I never really consider myself as being under pressure either.

On the first count, I will admit that upon consideration - yes, I do have high standards. But I don't think that's a bad thing, or that it should be a rare thing. If I know the right way to do something, or I think I can figure out a better/more efficient way, that's how I try to do things. If I don't do what I'm supposed to do, then it's my fault, and I don't blame anyone else. I try to cut myself some slack when I'm tired or busy, but in general I try to take care of everything that I've committed myself to.

My favorite people in life all have very high standards for themselves, if I think about it, and they inspire me. The people I know who have very low standards, I have little respect for. High standards I think should be the default setting - and if you are shirking your responsibilities in life, I think there better well be a reason for it.

I've also been told I'm lacking in the compassion department. I'm sure that ties in. :) I don't have much sympathy for people who don't do what they a) know they should and b) are capable of doing. I guess on a fundamental level I don't understand why there are people who don't do what they should. Why don't people just make SENSE, and act LOGICALLY, danggit? :) Ah, the life wish of an engineer.

And it also doesn't often occur to me that I'm under pressure.

I guess I actually am - I have responsibilities to my advisor as a researcher, to my housemasters and girls as an RA in the dorm, to my friends, to my family as a sister and daughter, to my lab mates as a colleague and collaborator, to my instructor as a student in pilot ground school, to the medical study directors as a study participant, and to my peers as an organizer and officer in an entrepreneurship organization. That's a lot of people to make happy on a daily basis. And if I'm lucky, I'd like to do things to make sure I'm happy too - exercise, keep my room clean, experiment with cooking healthy meals.

But doesn't everyone have similar pressures in life? And there are those with so much worse to deal with - illness, or finances, or job woes. Truly, I am blessed. In addition, all of those things are things I CHOOSE to do, and actually enjoy most of the time. Somehow then I don't feel like I should complain, because why complain about something that was your choice? But perhaps pressure is pressure, whether internal or external.

And the corollary to the comment that I'm under a lot of pressure was that I also don't have a lot of outlets. I disagree with that a little bit. Why is that when people say, "outlets for pressure," they are most often talking about things like drinking, smoking, clubbing, watching TV, eating junk food? Must every outlet for pressure be a vice? Is "outlet for pressure" just a convenient excuse for whatever kind of behavior you want to justify? Ack!

So in conclusion - in my own head, my standards are normal, and the general population has abymsally low standards. And in my head, the amount of pressure I'm under is voluntary and self-generated, and therefore I don't cut myself much slack when I fall short. Most of the time, this helps make me a driven, successful person. Other times, this tends to make me frustrated and unhappy, and project an arrogant critical persona.

Maybe I should get out of my head!

Do you think you have high standards for yourself? Is it exacerbated by external or internal pressures? And what do you do as an outlet that ISN'T a vice?


  1. Most people who have high standards for themselves don't realize it. Or, we tend to think everyone thinks that way. You'll have to deal with it big-time when you're thesis writing. Trying to make figures perfect, wanting every tidbit of info in the thesis, answering every little comments from your reviewers.

    In my case, I don't feel external pressure to do it. But I do tend to bite of more than I can chew. I'm not sure if that's how you go about it but it does sound like it.

    You need a hobby that isn't a vice. I mean, I like drinking beer but that's not that productive. Rather, I do table top war gaming with dice and little miniatures, etc. Probably for similar reasons that FrauTech plays DnD. The (sometimes) complex rules are great for our analytical brains to wind themselves around it rather than schoolwork/research related topics.

  2. To the general population, I suppose I have "high standards" - that is, I work very hard at what I do and I guess I'm "above average". I also work hard to maintain healthy relationships, and people often tell me that I'm very caring and great to be around. This is all stuff that I truly want to do, so I guess you can say the pressure is self-generated.

    I think there needs to be a balance between setting high standards and taking yourself lightly (which may come off as "low" standards sometimes.) I do my job very well, but I have my days when I waste an hour checking email at work. I maintain great relationships, but there are times when I snap at those I love undeservedly. I don't beat myself up for not doing what I "should" at these times- I'm not perfect, and my feelings and needs are important too. But of course - this can also swing the opposite way; if you just make excuses for yourself all the time, then you'll have "low standards." But if you never cut yourself some slack, you'll just go crazy.

    As for the vices - I like: drinking, clubbing, and eating junk food. I keep them under control, and people tell me I'm a paradox: A really smart,nerdy wild party animal :D (I personally don't think this needs to be a paradox,.)

    So I guess my point is that you can set "high standards," but still not take yourself that seriously. In fact, the light-heartedness that might initially seem like "low standards" provides the emotional support to maintain high standards.