May 13th, 2022 | The Doctor Manhattan Syndrome.

the doctor manhattan syndrome

Not the Best Times For Generalists

This will be quite an exhibitionistic post… but I’ve learned that more often than not, there are many people out there who feel exactly like me — but just don’t say it aloud. Or, they don’t even grasp their own feelings, until someone pokes them and wakes them up. So, I decided to write this article anyway. 

We live in times of specialization. The more specialized you become as a professional, the easier it becomes to get a job, the higher the pay, and the clearer the career path. Overall, these are not good times for generalists. Yes, as a jack of all trades you can find your place in society by working on yourself, but it will be a long and bumpy road through self-discovery, disappointments, rejections, mistakes, burnouts, and toward the ultimate peace of mind — or a grave.

And even if you are a natural talent with a clear vision of what you wish to achieve, it’s still extremely hard to get noticed in times of noise, turmoil, and overall information overload. And so it’s been a long way for me to work out a plan for what to do in life, and find a niche that I could comfortably occupy in order to say its a beautiful life. 

Becoming the Ultimate Generalist

When I went to study at Warsaw University, the bare thought of studying a single discipline was sickening to me. Therefore, I chose the interfaculty study track in Mathematics and Natural Sciences where I could pick any subject from any of the 17 natural sciences covered by the program. And, where no one could tell me what to do with my time.

  

Officially, I had to choose an individual supervisor who was supposed to mentor me… but I deliberately chose a teddy bear prof who was blindly signing any study plan I would come up with. And so I ended up with three Masters — in Maths, Physics, and Psychology. But during my studies I still didn’t feel like my hunger for learning was fully satisfied, so I was also taking courses in evolution theory, economy, anthropology, and business development on the side.

Then, when I finally entered the job market, I first aimed to become a university professor, to then fall for the hustle culture dreaming of becoming the next big CEO. And eventually, I ended up thinking that I should become none of these, as both these paths don’t give enough freedom and involve too much specialization.

Who I rather wanted to become instead, was Master Yoda: someone whose pearls of wisdom enlighten people in the whole universe. And hey: my second name is “wisdom” (for real; my second name is “Zofia,” the Polish version of “Sophia” which literally means “wisdom”), and I somehow managed to grow two sets of wisdom teeth, so I felt qualified.

Hard Life of a Wise Creature

But what does being Yoda mean in practice? Well, it’s a bittersweet role of a professional outcast. Someone who is somewhat beyond any circle and industry — always standing on the sidelines, observing the reality, and never really fitting anywhere. But who is also, at the same time, welcome (or tolerated at least) almost everywhere? Someone who is like gas — a transparent and neutral substance that can get through any door easily. And then serve as the most objective and rational person in the room. 

But, that comes at a high personal cost. People live in tribes for a reason; they have a natural need to belong and develop a banter with their tribemates. In the Maslow pyramid of needs, the needs of safety and belonging occupy the low, fundamental levels, right above the main basic, physiological needs. 

And, as a professional misfit, you cannot ever get this satisfying feeling of being in the right place. Every group of people is right, and every group is wrong at the same time. 

I recently visited several events in a number of disciplines, all from Devconnect, the largest ETH meetup in the world, to Innovation for Health, the biggest Dutch conference in health sciences. While listening to people’s personal stories at the events, I had this recurrent, uncomfortable feeling that I hear the words but I don’t hear the melody. That I understand where they are coming from, but my own story is so different that I will never be able to join their tribe and live like them. That it’s too late to change.

Scam and Chaos

But then, what happens once you decide to become the living temple of wisdom? Well, all kinds of unpredicted and unpleasant events can happen. 

For instance, you might discover that most projects out there, all from traditional startups to new concepts in speculative markets, are completely unnecessary. Some of them are shameless rugs, while most of them result from the founders’ desire to mean something in this world at all costs.

As a consequence, the whole job market is — to large extent — built from all sorts of intertwined pyramidal and Ponzi schemes. Namely, when you look at the circulation of value, paychecks, and taxes in society, you can find many closed loops that create no value but result in empty labour and spent or even evaporated money. 

Public officers launch public auction programs and find suppliers to develop new education programs and “raise awareness” about problems that nobody wants to be educated about. 

Shitty, pointless startups are created and funded daily just because there is just too much cash in circulation, and all the established asset classes are in a bubble. Private investors have nothing better to put money into than startups so they fund whatever comes up and sounds catchy. 

Useless academic research leads to tons of new, useless, and often p-hacked publications. This, in turn, stimulates further governmental funding and leads to even more new, useless, and often p-hacked publications. By eye-gazing, 50-90% of the whole economy is pulp fiction: burning money and labour with absolutely no value produced in the process.

The further you dig, the more sense of void you get. You dig, and dig, and dig, and you find no substance. No ground. The only two states of matter that you find, are scam and chaos.

Trying To Find Something Real In This Fake World

For me, personally, this feeling of void and disconnection is even deeper because of personal experiences with people behind.

When I was 8 years old, my best friend — who was a good Catholic girl — was murdered. When I was 27, I was suddenly abandoned by my fiancee before the wedding. In the corona crisis, many people whom I used to consider friends for many, many years turned out to be something else. Apparently, they couldn’t stand that I dared to go my own way, while they got stuck with their frustrating jobs. My friend recently threw me out of her life — most probably, for the same reason, because no other possible reason comes to my mind. 

So, if the economy is fake, and relations are fake, what is even real? Sometimes, I have the feeling that the only real things are sunshine, the beer in my hand, and the canals of Amsterdam. No wonder I tend to spend so much time there. 

The Doctor Manhattan Syndrome 

The growing sense of indifference that I feel, reminds me of the story of Dr Jonathan Osterman also known as Doctor Manhattan, one of the leading characters in Watchmen by DC Comics. 

To briefly review his story, Jon is an atomic physicist with a PhD from Princeton University who experiences an accident as a resident of a research base at Gila — his body is torn to pieces from the force of the generator in a test chamber.

In the following months, he seems to progressively re-form himself as indicated by a series of partial bodily reappearances: first a disembodied nervous system including the brain and eyes; then as a circulatory system; and then as a partially muscled skeleton. Jon eventually fully reappears as a tall, muscular, hairless, naked, blue-skinned, glowing man.

Due to his supernatural powers, he is then used by the American army as a weapon in a few subsequent wars. But despite his status as a demi-god and a national hero, he feels more and more detached — first from his partner, then the society, and eventually, the whole human race. Eventually, he leaves the Earth and unites with the Universe.

How It Feels Now

I slowly started achieving what I aimed for. I started walking into events at the “Illuminati tariff” of zero. I am treated like gas. But I also see all the chaos and scam.  

The only colourful spots in this dim picture are the talented people I bump into all the time. That’s also why I became a career advisor in the process — I guess I got the “I wasted my life so I won’t let you waste yours” syndrome.

But the truth is, extremely talented people don’t really need me… because they are extremely talented. The rest of the world will do just fine without me. It doesn’t need me at all. I can just watch with the beer in my hand. It’s a really weird feeling. Something different from grief or depression. It’s not a disease, it’s facing the truth.

And I live in a way to not have any unfinished business with anyone. The pivotal method I had been working on in my PhD, Momentum, got published in my PhD thesis, and the Python code is publicly available online. I already finished my method for self-navigating in the job market, the Ontology of Value Test, and published it. And it works very well, it can help you to build your career path! It is available online and anyone can take the test for 30 bucks (or, if they don’t have the money, they can just drop me an email). I write books and blogs on the fly so that I don’t need to explain myself to people twice. So, all my pearls of wisdom are available in some form somewhere, if not online, then on my laptop. Plus, I openly tell people what I think of them; there is nothing I need to add. 

Summertime Sadness

The worst moments come not when lots of things are happening around, but rather when nothing is happening. These sunny, peaceful days are just the worst. No wind and no rain — just sunshine and bliss. When the nostalgia and summertime sadness mix with a horror atmosphere from the iconic movie, Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) by Peter Weir.

These are the moments when this eerie feeling of separation always comes. It hit me hard the last weekend when I was peacefully working on my second book, sitting on some abandoned boat and sipping a bock beer. I was asking myself, “Why I am still here? And still, such a long distance to go… 50 years or more. And redundancy is a problem very easy to solve, but will my parents like the solution?”

And I get that having fun and meeting interesting people is also the point of life in itself… but I am tired of partying. The paradox is: even the fact that every person I talk to, is interesting, becomes boring with time. Because it is so predictable. 

I tried to bargain with gods and requested them to give me something useful to do. But there was no sign from heaven. Absolutely nothing. 

As you can see from this post, I didn’t test my parents this time. But I wonder: how many people out there suffer from the same syndrome — apparently, unknown to medicine? T.B.C.  

Please cite as:

Bielczyk, N. (2022, May 13th). The Doctor Manhattan Syndrome. Retrieved from: https://nataliabielczyk.com/the-doctor-manhattan-syndrome/

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If you would like to read more about careers (for PhDs and other white-collar professionals) and effective strategies to self-navigate in the job market, please also take a look at the blog of my company, Ontology of Value where I write posts dedicated to these topics.

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