As the summer of writing papers yields to the fall of trying to find work, one is naturally much troubled by introspection -- which, in my case, is of a self-pitying and/or self-accusing kind that it's probably best not to inflict on others; hence the general hush. A few observations:
- There is much to be said for the theory that procrastination is self-sabotage. I suspect that I'm invested in telling myself that I've underachieved and in making this seem plausible on the merits. (The alternative, that one did one's best but still ended up mediocre, is much more dispiriting.)
- Wasted effort is character-building. (So is putting a lot of effort into something you know you'll never get good at; so are routine tasks that eat up a lot of your time.) I have avoided all of these to a large extent, and the consequent damage is a profound inability to get myself to work hard.
- In my case, part of the problem was that, by managing to avoid all teaching responsibilities, and not (e.g.) having a family to worry about, I managed to keep afloat relative to others -- workwise -- without doing very much. Had I been more driven and less indolent, I would have done more, and perhaps accomplished more; even if that effort had been wasted, I would have accustomed myself to long, concentrated spells of working. It appears to be easier to increase one's time at work than to increase one's efficiency: any obligation that caps work hours is a good thing.
- It is pointless to commit yourself to things that you're not up to -- however much you'd like to be up to them -- on the assumption that commitments really are binding on your future self. Your future self is more slippery than you give it credit for being. Your future self is also quite good at damage control.
- An almost-snowclone: "X's weaknesses are inseparable from his strengths." Depressingly true of most of us, I think. I often wish I were better with details than I am, but I think that if I had (ceteris paribus) that sort of mind I would be subject to the shortcomings of the detail-oriented people I see all about me. (This is partly a numerical thing: for some reason it is rarer to find physicists who are heedless of particulars than to find those who pay too much attention to them.)
- There is no such thing as bad luck. There is unreasonably good luck, and then there is the luck we deserve.