I’ve had numerous visits to PCAARRD even before I was hired. My first job as a Research Assistant required that I read a lot of the reports from a particular Division there. Even so, I was surprised when I first entered the Crops Research Division or Crops. It’s about thrice as huge as I was expecting. And it had a wow factor.
The flame of excitement in me died out as soon as I started to work. I felt like my youth was getting sucked out of me as I sat for hours in my new work space. I looked around and felt I was in the “adult world” where people woke up, worked, went home, and slept only to wake up the next day to repeat the cycle.
Being new, there was really not much to do but file documents and familiarize with the projects I will handle. I spent most of my days during the first weeks doing a lot of reading, intercepted only by occasional “Are you okay?” from my colleagues. I forced myself to keep assigning meanings to symbols that form words, sentences, paragraphs, only to realize I had to reread everything as my mind went somewhere else. I was really slow and could not fully comprehend the materials.
I decided to borrow a horticulture-for-dummies book to educate myself. I knew I had to study up even before I accepted the job. But some of the materials required advanced understanding of the subject matter. So for someone like me who has very minimal background in agriculture, I really had to invest time to learn and understand the materials.
For years I have been exposed to terms like cost, revenue, interest rate, exchange rate, prices, incremental changes, efficiency. Meanwhile, in my readings I was encountering words I have not heard in a while, or ever! I was so bad at it, I did not even know what a nursery looked like!
At that point, I was starting to regret a bit my decision to work there. Although I love learning new things and although I know I will eventually learn what I had to learn, however long it would take, seeing that I had to spend a huge portion of my time just to understand the projects, and knowing, at the back of my mind, that I am specializing in economics and not horticulture, I started to question whether putting a lot of effort in learning the materials will be worthwhile.
Having such an idea lurking in my head was poisonous. While I tried to learn new topics, I hesitated in digging too deep into the concepts. So I learned “just enough” to deliver my outputs.
But “just enough” was no longer enough when I had to write articles about technologies being developed in areas of expertise found at the other end of the soft science-hard science spectrum, definitely away from my economics. Translating technical information in a language for laymen involves saying things as simply as possible. And for one to do so, one has to really understand the concepts. How in the world was I going to do that?
I started to feel unfit for the work I was expected to do. I started to doubt my abilities in fitting in, observing the age disparities in the group, and didn’t make a lot of friends. I made minimal social interactions. I was not contributing much to the team and would be easily replaced by someone more suitable for the position I luckily got. Being an econ major, I could not utilize what I knew and what I learned from years of rigorous lessons in school. For a while, I thought, I may have committed a mistake in working there.
My toxic mind altered my perception of reality. For weeks, I started to see my surroundings and myself in a negative light. Every day was filled with hours I had to get through. I told myself I’ll get used to it.
But one day I decided I did not want to get used to it. I did not want to spend a huge chunk of my day only to wait for it to end.
Things started to change for the better when I discovered the root of the problem — me. I held firmly to my presumptions and expectations from the kind of work and people in this new place without giving it a chance to unfold on its own. While I thought I was willing to learn, I prevented myself from immersing into new knowledge and concepts and blocked terms that seemed too technical for me to understand. I tried to deliver outputs in a what-would-he/she-write/say and where-is-the-template fashion when I had my own way of thinking and doing things that may improve the status quo. With economics, I realized I could construct articles with a more complete picture of the issues that certain projects are addressing. I work in a funding agency, and economics is all about optimal allocation of scarce resources. Having this in mind — fund allocation — I finally found a framework I can use when learning new concepts and technologies.
Indeed, when we focus on what we can control, on how we respond to situations instead of succumbing to negativity, great things happen and things come around for the better.
My new outlook refueled my motivation. I was able to find fulfillment in what I do. Eventually, I became more willing to open up to others and to get to know my workmates beyond the small talk stage. I was able to find meaning in what I do and enjoyed working everyday. The office suddenly felt warmer and the group, a family.
It’s sad to leave when attachments are starting to grip, when new friendships are being formed. When I have just started to build rapport with some of the staff. But it would have been sadder to have left without such attachments. And for that I am thankful.
I have so much to thank for, actually.
When I started to welcome the discomfort from “walking in the dark” and “learning the ropes,” I certainly learned a great deal. Were it not for Crops, I would still be making crappy “syntheses” (like that literature survey I did in grad school that got me reprimanded by my professor). Were it not for Crops, I would still be the same passive individual (I would think all those follow-ups forced me to be quite assertive). Were it not for Crops and PCAARRD in general, I would not have found my own voice.
I have made my fair share of blunders. It’s a good thing that the workplace is filled with forgiving, patient people! I am grateful to have worked with smart people who have growth-oriented mindsets. Always learning. Always looking for ways to improve the system. And everyone is always enjoined to share their insights and ideas, no matter the age or job title. There is mutual respect and professionalism. There is structure and efficiency. There is seriousness and commitment. Yet these people still find time to laugh and enjoy each other’s company.
Looking back, I laugh at the idea of regretting my decision to work there. I brought home a bagful of experiences (and a truckload of memories!) that made me a better person. The learning curve ahead of me is still steep. But everything I got from Crops are tools I can use to help me traverse the course.
So thank you, Crops. Thank you, PCAARRD!