Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Some Things I Know That I Wish I Could Really Believe

Apropos of nothing (or at least nothing I want to blog about right now), here is a list of some work/career related things I believe in theory but struggle to implement in practice:

  1. It doesn't really matter if you make the "wrong" decision at any particular career decision point. You probably won't destroy your career. You almost certainly won't starve to death. Get over yourself and just get on with it.
  2. It doesn't matter if you have former classmates or colleagues the world views as more successful than you. You've done other cool things with your life, and you wouldn't trade. 
  3. Very few people ever really know what their long term impact on the world is, so stop worrying about it.
  4. It might not be fair that you are almost always the one to smooth the rough edges of interpersonal interactions on teams, and it might not always be rewarded or even noticed, but it is important and good work and it makes people's lives better, so do it anyway.
  5. The respect of people who don't respect skills they don't possess isn't worth chasing.
  6. Even people you respect get it wrong sometimes. Do what is right for you, not what they think is right for you.
  7. There's nothing wrong with playing a long game.
  8. But there is also nothing wrong with just trying for what you want, even if you don't think you have all the experience needed. No one is going to give you permission no matter how long you wait or how many boxes you check. Just try.
  9. Figuring out the right balance between those previous two points is justifiably hard to do, so stop beating yourself up for not knowing the "right" thing to do.
  10. And go back and re-read point #1.

Do you have any you want to add? Do so in the comments.


  1. Zenmoo3:34 AM

    I'm struggling with #7 now.

    And also

    Don't feel like you're letting colleagues down when you leave a job. They can (and will) hire someone to replace you.

  2. I always always always have trouble with #8.

  3. Anonymous6:06 AM

    With #2 it always helps me to look at my children. I mean, just look at your children. Nobody else has them. And they're amazing.

    I think I've been blessed with a lot of #1 actually turning out to be a great thing in the long run. Maybe you just need to mess up more with your life before you'll really internalize its truth.

    Although, related, a lot of what happens after a set-back is under our control... If people don't invite me to a party, I throw my own (this was my motto for conference panels... turns out nobody likes to organize them and everyone likes to be asked to be on one). One can bloom where one is planted. I've done a LOT of program-building since I got here and it has paid off in spades. Because of my efforts and the people who recruited me and the people I helped recruit, my school is no longer a place that people tease me about at conferences. There are a lot of good people here now.

    Maybe read Mindset again for a refresher. :) And the Paradox of Choice. Because often satisficing is better than worrying about whether or not a choice was "best" because there's just so much to do in those 168 hours each week (especially when you live in San Diego-- have you noticed that you live in San Diego?) that worrying about optimizing is suboptimal.

    And remember, if you don't fail from time to time, you're not aiming high enough. And even if you don't get the position or the publication, so long as you're professional (as in, don't get drunk at the interview and start screaming obscenities), you're giving yourself exposure and making contacts who will think of you fondly for future opportunities. Surely you've seen this on the hiring side when you read applications that you wish you could hire but they don't quite fit or another applicant is even more qualified.

    Oh, and heck, you can take more chances because you have a big money buffer. On that reading list, reread (or read) Your Money or Your Life for a little confidence booster with that aspect.

    Which is all re-emphasizing #1-- you really are going to be ok no matter what.

    1. I know! I have great kids and an awesome husband. I live in a nice house in a beautiful city. I've traveled a lot, and I get to keep traveling (although not as much as I'd like). Insecurity is such an irrational thing sometimes.

    2. Anonymous6:49 AM

      "irrational" sounds so fixed mindset-- I think with enough repetition irrational can be replaced with rational (for most people)

      (Again, this is something I have experience with!)

  4. Mine is: It's not personal!

    There's a lot of rejection in my field (and nasty student evaluations, to pile on top on the continuous round of rejections). It's hard not to internalize (I didn't get this grant because I/my project is worthless; I'm a failure; everybody else gets grants/prizes/publications, etc). Academia is so weird - you take a bunch of neurotic perfectionists and expose them to almost unbearable amounts of criticism and rejection. It explains a lot about the way many of us behave.

    1. And people rarely say nice things to you, right? I get criticism in my job, too- there is a joke that no one notices the computer people when things are running well, but they'll excoriate us if a system is down for 30 minutes. However, there are regular opportunities for praise (performance reviews, spot bonuses, etc) that help out.

    2. Academia is so weird - you take a bunch of neurotic perfectionists and expose them to almost unbearable amounts of criticism and rejection.

      If there ever was a one-liner describing academia to T, this is it.

    3. Yes, that comment is perfect.

  5. Anonymous6:51 AM

    Here's a really nifty related post from this morning's blog readings.

  6. Carolina (@braziliancakes)9:35 AM

    I think hindsight is 20/20. In reality when we are in the throes of making decisions, everything seems like it is likely to fall apart with a bad decision. In the end things tend to sort out and not seem as important as we navigate the path that appears.

    Although, I'm hoping this is true because I'm still in the throes of finding my next job and establishing a career after a PhD.

  7. Failure, sadly, is relative. I have wanted to be a scientist ever since elementary school (I am 40 now). Instead, I joined the army right after college (no job offers, no graduate school [I struggled during my undergrad years], no networks). I did four years. Afterward, I got a brief stint at a biotech start up that lasted less than a year. That was the only time I worked for biotech for pay. I went back to school effectively redoing my undergraduate work and eventually got a non-thesis Master of Science. I finally applied to PhD programs and got rejected everywhere. In the following years, I have worked manual jobs (not even requiring high school) for less than $18,000 a year. I have no patents or publications or solid connections. I would now consider a $35,000 post-doc position with an 80 hour workweek to be heaven.

    1. You are correct! I am currently considering several options about what to do careerwise and none of them are bad. For that, I am truly very grateful.

      What type of science were you hoping to do? Maybe someone in my readership would have some ideas for you. If you'd rather not answer directly, you could always email me a question for an anonymous "Ask Cloud" post.

    2. I would love to study the biochemistry and molecular biology of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Of course, studying any disease (Huntington's, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's) would be awesome. I still want to get a PhD. I am fully aware that it is no golden ticket to a dream job but I no longer expect such a thing. I just want to do it for personal edification.

    3. I know very little of your situation, so take this advice with a giant grain of salt, but one thing you could consider is widening your scope a bit at the graduate school stage. This might help you find a school that will accept you into their PhD program. Maybe look for places where you can learn the techniques you could apply to the disease studies you want to do, and not just places where you can study those diseases. If you do a solid PhD and have some new techniques to add to a lab, you might be able to break in to the field you really want at the postdoc level.

      It is a bit of a long shot- and it is definitely playing a long game- but reading between the lines, it sounds like maybe there is something in your grad school application that is making you not one of their top candidates, so you need to find a place willing to take a chance on you and let you go ahead and be a late bloomer.

      Let me know if you want me to publish this question (or another one) as an ask cloud post and get more people to give ideas.

      Good luck.

  8. waving hi! I love this. I'd like to make a poster of it for my students :)

    1. Hi! Glad you like it. :)

      I miss seeing you around the internets... but I know how hard it can be to blog when the biggest things going on are unbloggable!

  9. I struggle with ALL of these.

  10. Anonymous9:30 AM

    This resonated enough for me to shed my "lurker" status and post a comment. :-)

    As I contemplate a job change as well as a move after nearly a decade, I felt almost paralyzed by #1. Then I happened to read the following HBR blog post that helped change my perspective somewhat.

  11. Oh #2, FOR SURE. I know I wouldn't trade, EVER, but one of my classmates (in my major, even!) won a Macarthur. Yowza. It's hard not to play "what if" ;)


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