Thanks to everybody for their wise words on yesterday's entry -- this is a very thinky-time for me, and I appreciate all the kindness and the suggestions/advice.
Today I ended up - unplanned - talking to both my boss and his boss about the situation. And there's some tentative hope on the horizon.
I've been reassured, multiple times, that the amount of frustrating stress and overwhelming workload I've been facing on this project is not usual. This is a very new project, but carries stuff from some older projects which were divided out and shut down, so it's a really complicated place to be: I got caught in the middle of a really, really tough situation, combining super aggressive short-term timelines with vague and nebulous future roadmaps, which is why I feel so lost. It involves relationships with four internal branches of the company that don't usually all talk to each other, which is why there are so many meetings. Most of what I'm suffering from isn't indicative of "a project leader", but of being this project's leader in specific.
(Dear management: Thanks. You fucks. Love, Sev)
Even just hearing that this isn't normal was a little reassuring for me. If I'm crumbling under pressure, I like to know that it's super!!!amazeballs!~!!badass pressure, not Everyday Joe Baloney pressure. I feel better that way.
One of the things that has been so frustrating about my current project is that we are working on undefined things without any really clear targets. I'm going to do an analogy here, to try to explain: let's say you work in a kitchen and you have a cookie recipe that's problematic. It's a flavor a lot of your customers want, but you have trouble baking it just right. The Chef Overlords give you this project, and they say, "Develop and improve this cookie recipe." So, okay.
You start looking at your cookie recipe. But no one told you where exactly you are supposed to go improving it. Do you want the cookie to be healthier? To taste better? To be easier to make? To have less expensive ingredients? If you replace one ingredient with another and it improves the taste but is less healthy, is this an okay tradeoff, or no? If you can make the cookie easier to bake, but then it's more expensive, is that okay, or no?
But no one will answer that. You ask the people who sell the cookies, and they say, it has to taste good and be cheap. You ask the people who do maintenance, and they say, it has to be processable, if we can't bake it you don't have a product. You ask the customer, but each one says a different thing, and no one's sure who is actually buying these cookies anyway. You think, well, I'll try to improve all of the things. But first you are not actually made of time, and second there are some trade-offs -- like tastiness vs health, and you don't know how to decide what's a worthwhile balance there.
You ask your Chef Overlords, and they just say, "Improve the cookie." Then they say, "Oh, we want you to look at all our cookies." And there are some cookies made with vanilla, and some with chocolate, and some are gluten-free and some are low-fat and some are bargain cookies and some are designer cookies and some are really simple and some are super complex and they say, "Improve all the cookies."
So you're stuck fumbling around with 8 different directions to go in, and you can't focus your work forward, because any or all of those things could be target improvements - and maybe should - but no one will tell you what's a good range for acceptable trade-off and what's a target range for final product and maybe where you should start first.
That's my project, except that it's worse because there are no cookies here at all.
The first piece of good news: So right now, because I made a really good case / big stink about this at the meeting with the Japanese Overlords, the project is in somewhat of a holding pattern / waiting period, while the Overlords do some internal investigating and discussing and decide what our targets are on both short- and long-term. (I threw a very professional and polite fit and 'refused' to work on a lot of this stuff until we know where it's going, because I feel like we're wasting our time. We spent six months basically looking at a special baking soda until somebody (who wasn't the Overlords, even -- but since the Overlords were having fun with their thumbs up their asses, I decided that any guidance was better than joining the thumbs-up-asses club) decided what they really wanted was tastier chocolate chips, and then we spent six months looking for better chocolate chips before this somebody changed their minds again and said, fuck, we do still want the better baking soda, the chocolate chip taste may not be important and actually what we really want is not better tasting chocolate chips, but ones that don't melt.
Fuck. My. Life.)
The first bit of this decision is deliverable to me by September, according to our agreement. So for the next ~3 months, possibly longer, I get a bit of a break, because there is a lot of work that will be put "on hold" until we have some targets with which we can prioritize and determine direction.
The second piece of good news is, my boss has put things in motion for me to get a co-op of my own, hired by me, working specifically for me, in my lab. And not just a co-op, he is working to get a co-op position installed there, meaning when one co-op goes back to school I will have hired another to take his place, and I will basically always have a set of hands to support me, until I move on to other responsibilities.
The baddish news is that that won't be able to happen until January, because it's the end of the school year and most engineering students who want to co-op have already lined one up.
The goodish news is that if the workload actually decreases for the next couple months, I think I can survive until January. And if the workload ramps back up at the end of the year, by January I'll have a co-op to help me with some of it.
Sure, it isn't an immediate solution. And I need to have a more serious talk with my boss about my Masters degree and this workload in general. Before I continue to commit myself to this job, for example, I'd like to make sure I don't get handed a SURPRISE!!!!COOKIE!DISASTER project every two years, or there will be no vodka left in the world. But as for right now I really do feel like maybe there are some paths out I can take to help deal with all of this shit a little bit better.
One other thing I realized today is that I need to learn to delegate better. I need to stop looking at things other people have done and deciding that I could do them better and that that means I should just do them so that it's done right the first time. I need to stop claiming lots of work for myself because I want to do it my way. I need to learn to better trust people, and let them work on things in their own way -- and if I think they're fucking up, I need a better way to deal with it other than ripping it out of their hands and finishing it myself. (Sadly, sometimes this is the easiest way to do it, because I work with a lot of equally stubborn assholes who think they're right - this is Research - which means they don't listen to me; doubly so because I don't have a ~sacred PhD~.) Even if it takes more time, even if it seems like more work having to redirect and guide people, I need to learn how to do it. I need to learn to let go. I need to learn that even if someone else doesn't do something 100% perfectly, that maybe 85% is actually okay. I'm very invested in a lot of the things I do and I need to take a couple steps back.
The problem here is a) I am a control freak; b) I don't work well with others (despite the surprising trust of my management) and I don't like talking to people; and c) I actually legitimately don't trust about half of the people I work with, because they are either c1) idiots or c2) ambitious backstabbing assheads. But I need to find a system I can work with, and learn to delegate more.