A coworker of mine hurt herself while exercising yesterday. Today it hurts her worse, and there is some swelling. We think she pulled a muscle. She needs to go to a clinic or see her doctor, but despite urgings to do so from me and others, she hasn't gone and has continued working, including operating equipment that likely makes the wound worse. "Yeah, I should go," she said, "but I have all this work to do, and I have a meeting this afternoon."
"Why do you continue?" I asked. "Why are you so devoted to this place that you won't even attend to your personal health?" But then I followed this with a self-reminder that I have continuously sacrificed my own personal time and health (usually sleep) to come in late at night and on the weekends to try to catch up with work.
Answered my coworker: "The way I see it is I'm less likely to get fired this way."
I laughed, in a sad sort of way, like chuckling when you see some hapless guy on TV's Funniest Home Videos take a hit in the crotch when his kid misses a baseball and accidentally slams the bat into the family jewels.
Then she asked me why I devote myself to my work so much. I shrugged and replied: "I guess I do it out of an innate desire to innovate and an unquenchable scientific curiosity."
She gave me a shocked and horrified look and uttered: "Oh . . . my . . . god. That sounds like something you would find printed in the company's propaganda magazine."
Yes, I admitted, she was right. I shook my head in self-disappointment. Have I been at this so long I'm starting to talk in corporate-speak? Is my unconscious devotion to my work really that bad? I rushed to the bathroom mirror and check out my forehead. Luckily there is as yet no company logo stamped there above my uni-brow. Then I went to the logbook that shows who was at work after-hours and tallied up the time I'd spent there late at night and on weekends. I counted a total of 12.5 hours in the past month, usually between the hours of 9PM and 1AM. This doesn't count the hours that I came to work early or left late. And I plan to be there several hours tonight, too. I drooped my shoulders and stumbled back to my office, where data analysis awaited me.
I don't work out of a desire for promotion or raises (which are almost non-existent at my company), and getting fired or laid off actually sounds appealing in a weird way. Quitting would be "my fault" and would surely lead to my family living in a cardboard box, yet I'd love the chance to escape. So my coworker's excuse doesn't apply to me. But I must admit to giving in to some of the pressure from my boss. See my previous post on the subject of work hours (HERE).
No, I honestly believe what I said, even if it's in the words my HR department would use. I think any good scientist would feel the same. It's in our blood. Even if we were ditch-diggers we would experiment with the best grip on the shovel, measure the average shovel-fuls of dirt to reach optimum digging efficiency, or examine effects of digging the ditch on neighboring plant and animal species. As long as I am at my job, I will do the best I can – not for the sake of my boss or the welfare of my company, but out of a sincere desire to excel at what I do and to humor the little scientist within me (some would say he's a mad scientist, but he would respond that he is perfectly sane and the rest of the world is mad!). It's sort of like what Gandalf said about Gollum, in The Lord of The Rings. "He both loves and hates the ring, as he both loves and hates himself." Yes, my Precious, I both loves and hates my job. gollum. gollum.
So, yeah, innovation and curiosity are part of who I am, like so many great scientists and lab rats. Someone once said I had the mind of a genius. They're right. I keep it in a jar over my lab bench. (pic)
But would I stay here if I were wounded, instead of seeing a doctor. Hell, no! I know you're reading this, Coworker. Go see a frickin' doctor already!
UPDATE (3/30/07): I wound up going back to work that night from about 10:30PM until 4:15AM! Jesus Christ! When I told my boss about it, all he did was shrug and say, "Oh." No pat on the back for my devotion, no sir-ee-bob. gollum.... By the way, Coworker went to a medical clinic a couple hours after I posted. After several hours of waiting, they finally admitted her, confirmed it was probably a pulled muscle, told her to wear a padded brace where the injury was, and told her to come back if it didn't help.