I am catching up a little here in bloggy land and came across a post by Gerty-Z about anxiety in her first couple 'o months running her own show. Odyssey followed it up with a good response from the perspective of someone with both familiarity with the situation and enough distance to have perspective.
What caught my attention, however, was the comment by GMP (can't seem to link to comments over there at LabSpaces) that says:
What I am trying to say is -- panic away! Panic is good - it means you are on the right track; embrace it. You know what they say: if you're not scared, it means you are not paying attention!
On the surface, I can see where this makes some sense in a tongue-in-cheek kinda way, but I don't think I buy into the idea. Panic, to me, has an element of out-of-control to it. It is fine to do once in a while when things get overwhelming, but if you're in a state on panic most of the time, or even a good amount of the time, then you're likely fucked.
Have there been times in the last two years when I have internally freaked out. Hell yeah. Have there been times when I thought "what the fuck am I doing here?" Yes. We all go through this kind of stuff because, as I keep saying, this job is totally different than the training for this job. Even a good postdoc mentor can't adequately prep you for the reality of everything you have to juggle as the leader of a lab with a novel research focus / teacher of undergrads / new person who is eligible and naive enough for the departmental service no one else wants to do / lab equipment orderer / manager of people / accountant / money getter / navigator of an unfamiliar political landscape / etc x 3.8 fucking bazillion.
The reality of all this will cause anxiety. Managing the lab finances and personnel cost, alone, is enough to keep one up at night. Trust me. You're now immediately responsible for others. This ain't a solo ship anymore.
BUT, panic isn't going to help anything. It is allowed on occasion and in the presence of senior people to give you advice, but as CPP has eloquently put in the context of frustration in the lab, but I think the same goes for panic:
The moment that your trainees begin to think that you are not calm and confident in your expertise and in your ability to make your lab a success, they will lose trust in you as a mentor. And once they lose trust in you, you are completely fucked.
Trainees are like dogs: they can smell fear. If you are afraid of failure, and your trainees smell your fear, you are fucked.
So, while it is normal the freak out once in a while and healthy to be thinking a few moves ahead, with about 4 back-up plans, when the panic comes it is important to take a step back and try and come up with a plan to attack the most important things first. When you have the keys to your own lab, you're a leader by default and no one is going to follow someone in panic.
With only 2 months under her belt, I'm sure that Gerty-Z is overwhelmed and feeling like she can't keep her head above water. I know I did. But remember that everyone hits that stage (often more than once), the key is being able to reign yourself in and use the motivation to something productive. If writing isn't working, try something else, but don't allow yourself to just flail about. Things like mentorships, collaborations, students, etc., will fall into place if you just keep yourself moving forward.
At least, that's how I've survived two years so far.