Friday, June 08, 2012

Weekend Reading: The No Fear Edition

This week, I came across two posts about the value of resisting/overcoming the effect of fear, and a related post about what makes people aim for more impact in their work:

First, Anandi and House of Peanut was inspired by my post about how work-life balance isn't just for parents to write about how letting go of fear was instrumental in helping her achieve the work-life balance. She has a part time schedule in an industry known for long hours (technology). How did she get that? Well, for one thing she asked for it. Go read her post to learn more.

Next, Coding Horror wrote about a presentation he gave called How to Stop Sucking and Be Awesome Instead. He's got some good points. If you're intrigued by the post, I recommend downloading the full presentation, too- there's more good stuff in there.

Although they don't focus on this point, I think both writers are well aware of the role of money in supporting their "fear-free" lifestyle: if you genuinely NEED that job to put food on your table next week, it is hard to be fearless. This was sort of the point I was trying to get across in my post on buying happiness, which annoyed so many people. I may come back and try to discuss this again at some point, because I truly think that one of the best things I do with my money is save it so that I don't have that fear at work.

Finally, Cal Newport had a really interesting post comparing himself to another mathematician who has published similar, but higher impact papers. He hones in on why the other guy might be better equipped to produce papers worthy of high impact journals, but I wonder if there is also a fear component- i.e., that some people aim for a lower impact journal because they fear rejection from the high impact ones.

So what do you think? Are you fearless? Do you think that conquering fear is as important as Anandi and Coding Horror argue that it is? Is fear related to whether or not you aim high in your professional life?

I'm going to be busy and unable to check in on comments on this post much this weekend- I don't usually get a lot of comments on my Weekend Reading posts, so that probably won't be an issue. Of course, you guys will all be nice to each other discussing things in my absence! But if something weird happens and a flotilla of trolls shows up or something... I'll squash them when I can, I promise.


  1. I am fearless. Okay, well (probably like everyone) I aim to live fearlessly, which is not the same as being fearless. In my most inner mind/soul, I am pretty neurotic and anxiety-ridden; I have panic attacks and a high level of adrenaline running almost all the time. Probably *because* of those anxieties, I've spent a lot of time thinking about the role I want fear to play in my life, combined with the Bad Things that happened to my younger self (that sounded weird, I mean loss and despair, etc). But I made a conscious decision to live as fearlessly as possible (that is, not to let fear determine the types of choices I made), and I think it has made a tremendous difference, both in my personal and my professional lives. It means I'm not afraid to chose the more difficult path or the riskier path in whatever area of life. There is a kind of fearlessness that comes from having enough money (and I agree that money is a significant factor), but that's not the only way to be fearless. The other kinds come from confidence, knowing who you are. There's a line in an Ani DiFranco song I've always liked that reminds me of Coding Horror's post: "I don't care if they eat me alive/ I've got better things to do than survive." I used to think that would make an awesome tattoo; it's one of my life anthems.

  2. Anonymous2:27 PM

    I like calculated risks. The personal finance community is all over the idea of partial financial independence, which is basically the idea that if you can figure out your "enough" and get a big enough buffer to support it, then you will never be trapped at any job.

  3. Repeating here (slightly redacted) what I posted at Study Hacks:

    I know a few young superstars very similar to the young superstar featured in the Study Hacks post you linker to.

    One thing that comes from excellent academic breeding is fearlessness; these folks have grown up in groups/labs in which high impact papers are the norm. Not only do you pick up on how high-impact papers are written, but perhaps more importantly you develop the attitude that of course you can make high impact, such papers are something perfectly within your reach because they were routine in your scientific babyhood. This confidence is extremely important, not only in identifying topics for papers, but in persevering through the revisions or rejections.

    As someone who worked for an advisor with an excellent technical reputation but little glossy magazine experience, I can tell you there is a definite barrier I feel when contemplating submissions to Nature or Nature Progeny. This “Is it really Nature worthy?” that I constantly ask myself (and to which I usually answer “No” and submit to a solid society journal instead) is not what some of my higher-impact colleagues do. They just go for it.

  4. Thanks for the link! Like @Erin says, choosing to be fearless is something I do consciously and have to remind myself all the time. It's a work in progress.

    @GMP - this isn't just an academic thing. I see women self-censoring or limiting themselves all the time at work, whereas men "just do it". Maybe it's a risk-taking thing?

    1. Anandi, I agree, it may be a gender thing as well. I do know a couple of fearless female academics, but women seem to be much rarer than men in these high-impact echelons, maybe because there are so few women in the field, but maybe, as you say, because women tend to self-limit. All the high-fliers that I know have impeccable academic breeding though (accolades and awards starting from high-school, top 10 schools for undergrad and graduate school, top 10 school postdoc). That's not to say there are no high-impact people with non-standard resumes. But they seem to be an exception rather than the norm.

      And lastly, as you say, the risk-taking aspect. Like most traits, one's propensity to take risks is probably a mix of innate and learned (i.e. what is societally acceptable). Confidence is a great part in being willing to take risks, and confidence is a favorable trait in men while unfavorable in women. These different expectations can be communicated to men and women quite unequivocally during their development and academic training years...

    2. YES, @GMP. It's something that drives me batty in the male-dominated industry I work in. Men who take risks and talk a good game are making "big bets" and are "confident" whereas women who do the same are making "risky choices" and are "full of themselves" (or worse words).

      i'm trying to figure out how to encourage more bravery and risk taking in my daughter (as well as myself). She's just a toddler but I already see her hesitate (or outright refuse) to try to do something she doesn't know how to do, or can't do well. :( I'm the exact same way so I'm not sure how to approach/fix that.


Sorry for the CAPTCHA, folks. The spammers were stealing too much of my time.