9: Down the rabbit hole, I go

I am doing NaBloPoMo this month. 30 blog posts in 30 days. Come join me. #nablopomo2023

photo credit: @jeshoots via Unsplash

Working with me is pure delight, I can assure you. I am focused, detail-oriented, and I ask questions. Lots of questions. Questions that often don’t have a precise answer. Questions that maybe shouldn’t be asked. But I can’t help myself. If I do something, I want to do it right. And to do it right, I need all the information that I can get.

You see, I am a bit of a perfectionist. I usually work with high-resolution, high-precision data. I like to measure things precisely, and I like the numbers to add up and make sense. If I have incomplete or inconsistent data, it will keep me up at night. (Literally.)

My dilemma: I often work with modelers.

Do you know what modelers do?

They work with incomplete, imprecise, or inconsistent data. They make assumptions and lots of them. (I call it: ‘making up data’ and it’s the bane of my existence.)

I get it. (I really do.) It’s what they have to work with. But if I am involved, I want to make the incomplete, imprecise, and inconsistent data as complete, precise, and consistent as humanly possible before I hand them off. What’s wrong with that?

In past performance reviews, I’ve been told that my colleagues emphasized my thoroughness and attention to detail. I know it probably wasn’t always meant solely as a compliment. I tend to overthink and overanalyze (and probably sometimes waste time) when confronted with inconsistent or incomplete data. I swear, I am trying to let go. (Deep breath, San.)

Fast forward to today; I am currently trying to crank out unvegetated-vegetated ratios for a set of satellite data to hand off to a colleague who will implement them into a watershed model. Yesterday, I thought I was at a point where I was done with the analysis and ready to pass on the results. Then at the end of the day, I discovered inconsistencies in two of the data layers and now my whole analysis is unraveling.

I am having a call with my colleague later today to discuss these inconsistencies and I am expecting wouldn’t be surprised if she shrugs it off and tells me not to worry about it. Which, for the love of all things measurable, I don’t know how to do.

Down the rabbit hole, I go.

I mentioned in my re-introduction that I work as a geographer and some of you have asked what exactly I do. I’ll answer this question in more depth in a separate post later this month, so stay tuned.

  1. Haha, that sounds frustrating!! I suppose it’s a situation where you’re neither totally right nor wrong, and neither are they. I work in a data field too, and I think with data, the reality is that it can really never be 100% perfect. It’s just the nature of it! But I know what you mean about at least wanting to TRY…. Good luck with your analysis!

    1. You’re right – data is probably never 100% accurate, but I am going to get the best out of what I have if I can, goddammit :)

  2. Good times! I’m analytical to an extent, but I have a limit where it’s like “I just can’t dig through the weeds anymore, Ima take some shortcuts”. I’m an accountant so I’m literally only working with numbers, but even so there’s a point where things go from black and white to gray. My boss is really great about being able to draw the line between “yes we need to go into the weeds and count every leaf” or “pull a number out of the sky and we’re done”.

    1. I know, I know, sometimes you have to let things go. I think I have this irrational fear that somewhere down the line someone will come and ask me “what happened with this data set” (VERY unlikely) and I don’t have answers LOL

  3. This sounds like a really challenging but probably very necessary intersection of skillsets! But I could see how it could be frustrating on both ends. A friend of mine works in compliance, and so her job is literally to point out where people are making errors and she always feels like the bad guy… but it’s for the benefit of individuals and the entire organization, so it’s necessary. I would hope her (and your!) colleagues would recognize that and try to reserve their own frustration for the process rather than for the person implementing it.

    1. Oh, your friend has a very necessary, but thankless job… because people always take these kinds of things personally. I think I would be good at a compliance job though, haha.

  4. As someone who frequently works with incomplete data, I feel you on this. It’s so hard when datasets are messy or just missing entire cells!

    Hey, I just wanted you to know the Feedly issues are well and truly fixed. I must have gotten six notifications of this post today. LOL. Yay!

    1. Hooray. Thanks for the Feedly feedback again, Engie. Maybe you can now drop two of the “test feed URLs” so you won’t be swamped with duplicate notifications LOL

  5. “Do you know what modelers do? They work with incomplete, imprecise, or inconsistent data. They make assumptions and lots of them. (I call it: ‘making up data’ and it’s the bane of my existence.)”

    It’s called “making up data” – can you hear my laughter, too?

    I’m also a perfectionist. Most of the time I really, really wish I weren’t…but we get stuff done and we get it done well, dang it.

    1. We get stuff done and we get it done right IS RIGHT!

  6. Oh wow this sounds frustrating. I am also a perfectionist and overthinker so I can understand how this must stress you out.

    1. I am so glad I am not alone ;)

  7. OMG its like you broke into my brain for those first few paragraphs. I don’t work with data, etc. but man, I get the perfectionist part of life. We have chart audits in the medical field that I work in, and dang I hate being on what I have dubbed the “naughty list” and it makes me want to melt into the floor. I keep running tabs and charts, etc. but my team knows that they don’t need to micromanage me. I even told them that if I went into labor early prior to my scheduled c-section date, I was like I will be banging out notes while in the hospital. I maybe got lectured :-D but yeah.

    1. Girl, you’re on top of things…. and I love that you can relate to my brain. I knew there were more like me out there ;)

  8. I just tried to write up a text to explain why I think having two completely different ways to do things at work can actually beneficial but I have the feeling I am thinking in German right now and it somehow did not make sense to me in English. I hope you can find a middle ground somewhere with your colleague which will make everyone happy.

    1. Please share your thoughts in German sometime, if English didn’t convey what you were trying to say ;)

  9. What a dilemma.
    I get it to have it all perfectly analyzed and prepared to be handed off. Must be very frustrating and stressful to have this unravel shortly before the deadline. I am sorry.
    From my own experience as a not so thorough perfectionist anymore other really don’t have as high standards and they will most likely not value them. No one will realize if you loosen your own criteria a bit. That said doing it not so easy.

    1. I think you have a point, friend. Most people are way less detail-oriented than I am and don’t even care.

  10. This sounds complicated and exhausting. My guess is that sometimes it is hard to be you. I hope you find some balance at work and maybe let yourself off the hook once in a while. I look forward to learning more about your job.

    1. Haha, yes, sometimes it’s hard to be me. :) I think I am always just “afraid” that any issues further down the line will be traced back to me because I didn’t pay enough attention or something like that ;)

  11. hahha… this is so funny! I know detailed oriented people… I am not, I’m a big pic person, so something I get annoyed by detailed oriented people. it’s nothing wrong to be careful and detailed, what bothers me is to go on rabbit hole when it doesn’t matter for the task we are doing, like tangent, which is not helpful and leads to delays. As long as the team is on time, being detailed oriented is appreciated. IT’s a fine balance.

    1. I do agree that sometimes it’s good to step back and look at the big picture and I am working on that… it’s just that I am often just a “piece of the puzzle” and I feel like it will make the picture more inaccurate if all the puzzle pieces are already less accurate than they could be… if you know what I mean ;)

  12. I just stared at “unvegetated/vegetated ratios” for way too long. I think I am detail-oriented in some things, and not in others. Regardless, discovering an error like that at the last second sounds frustrating, so I’m sorry.

  13. Oh ha ha, it means the ratio of vegetated to unvegetated land? And not that the ratios themselves are vegetated or unvegetated? I had such a set of weird visuals going on.

    1. Haha, yes, you got it! I am sorry I could have explained that better! ;)

  14. I am detailed – oriented in some area but learned to see the big picture over the years… Sometimes I look wayy too closely and need to zoom out and ask “how will **this** b impacting my life/work/etc in one year?

    1. It’s definitely a skill I am working on. I often have to weigh time/money against the “urge” to keep tweaking something that doesn’t need to be tweaked.

  15. I would probably like things to be perfect but I am also pragmatic on the time constraints and whether the problems are actually material. It sounds though like you’re not sure whether they might be material?

    1. Since it’s only one piece to a puzzle, I feel like I am exacerbating an “assumption”, if I am not getting my piece as close to the truth as possible (if that makes sense)? I have gotten good feedback from the modeler who will take my information, so I am breathing a little easier ;)

  16. I am a perfectionist too and am also detail oriented. But there are so many times when we don’t have complete data or data period so you kind of have to do the best with what you have. It’s hard for someone who is pretty black and white in terms of my thinking, though! I’m trying to teach my new hire how deep into the data we can and should go. Sometimes the more you dig, the more you will confuse someone. Like there is a concept in fixed income called ‘duration’ which approximates price movement per basis point change in interest rates. You can dig further into the data and look at something called key rate duration, but you’d lose about 98% of the people we talk to if you delved that deep. But it’s a fine balance to share enough data/details and when to zoom out and generalize things. So it’s different than your problem but similar in that people can really go down a rabbit hole with little benefit!

    1. Yes, “you kind of have to do the best with what you have”… that’s the lesson here. I am glad that I am not the only one struggling with this, though ;) I can see how in your field you can get bogged down in the details, too.

  17. Perfectionists unite. I’m in the same boat – in my case, terrified that I will misstate or misinterpret something and that it will cause all the dominos to fall over. After which I will be exposed as a fraud and… you can see where this goes. And when it involves human subjects research? Yeah. Some nights it literally keeps me up.
    So I get this – and the worry that your colleagues are going to trace a discrepancy back to you. <3

    1. Perfectionists unite (can we start a support group? LOL) Exactly, I am “terrified that I will misstate or misinterpret something and that it will cause all the dominos to fall over.” You hit the nail on the head.

  18. I used to do financial modelling and it is a hard job! I feel for all of you!

    1. Thank you, Nicole. I am glad when someone gets it :)

  19. Oh, that perfectionist tendency. I feel it so much! I used to deal with data a lot more in my previous marketing role, but now the data I deal with affects real people (our writers) so it feels really important when something I do could cause a writer to freak out, lol. I like getting in the weeds with data, though; there’s something really fun about delving into that rabbit hole!

    1. Yay, another perfectionist :) I agree with you, it’s fun to delve into the rabbit hole and get things right :)

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