The Best of You
The other day in a conversation I was told that I was too cheerful to be a postdoc, and we all laughed about it. They said it was almost contradictory. I’ve got a confession to make: It is true, I am a cheerful person. I am always making fun, usually of myself and lighting out things around (outside and inside the lab). Life is already too complicated to be concerned about small things that are not under my control. So if you do not mind I like to take life with a little bit of humor and some sarcasm. And coffee, of course!
That does not mean I do not care about important things, of course I do. I am a regular person: I doubt myself around 1000 times a day; I overthink and plan ahead multiple options (parallel universes, time loops, what if’s, alternative science paths).
For my cheerful character, some people could have the impression that I am a really confident person, something that somehow is also kind of contradictory in the scientific field. Others may think I am a fool. Neither of them are true. As everyone else, I have suffered the terrible imposter syndrome at some point, but over the past years I have grown out of it.
I was told I was not a good scientist. I am too messy, too unfocused, inconsistent. My ideas were terrible. I wasn’t a good communicator. For sure I am not a talented writer. My English is poor and oh gosh, what a terrible (charming) accent I have!. I am sorry to bring this up here but nobody is good at something when they are just starting. Nobody was born knowing all the answers. Just as we learn to walk, speak, read, write and everything in life, we need to learn to be scientists.
When I was a kid, my father taught me to ride my bike. I remember vividly, because it hurt. It was summer, in the backyard of our country house with a yellow bike that I Inherited from my older brothers. I was trying to ride down a small slope. I met the wall. The third time, I was able to balance and turn on time. I tried, I failed and I learnt. Simple process.
It is true we are surrounded by very talented people. Some of them have a gift and they never got scratches learning to ride a bike. Others are great communicators, creative thinkers or they can do experiments with blinded eyes. The rest of us have to go through a learning process.
I remember my first western blot. Everything you can do wrong with a western blot, I did. For a while my gels did not want to polymerize. So in my first lab, we had to figure out what went wrong. Then I switched the charges running the gel and my protein was swimming in running buffer. Something similar happened with the transference. When I finally made it to the membrane, antibody drama. One day I was so tired of repeating the same blot over and over, that after getting a super ugly and dark film with no bands I told my PI and my labmates, It is okay, I am fine I am going to get a coffee and some chocolate and think about was wrong this time. My former PI was not thrilled about my answer, I guess. Everyone else was laughing for a while and they still make jokes about it. One day, suddenly, the blot worked and I saved that film like a treasure. Some years later I am able to tell was wrong with your western blot and troubleshoot quickly, because I did it before. I am not an expert but I am comfortable with the method. I guess we (the blot and I) made peace.
I tried, I failed, I learnt. I can tell you similar stories for almost every single method or idea I had. But I should tell you something else. While I was fighting for the perfect blot, everyone else was getting them done nicely. Science is so unfair sometimes. I was wondering what I was doing wrong if everyone else was using the same reagents. It had to be me. Something was wrong with me; I was not a good scientist if I could not make a western blot to work.
The truth is, the reason why the blot did not work was me, because I was learning. It has taken me a long time to realize how hard I was (sometimes still am) on myself. I was always comparing me, my experiment, my results, my projects with everything else around. Well, maybe I should say everyone else around.
Science is such a competitive field, and we are always trying to be the best. The best student, the best communicator, the best researcher. THE BEST. Everyone is different and we are all gifted with diverse talents, skill sets, backgrounds that will make perfect players in a multidisciplinary team. But after being frustrated for years, after unhealthy competition, I realized I did not want to be the best in everything. I ended aspiring to be something else: THE BEST OF ME.
Stop comparing yourself with anyone else and try to be THE BEST OF YOU. That is how I grow now. I challenge myself to improve things that I do not like. For example, writing is my weakness. It terrifies me. Obviously, the main thing in a scientist’s job is to write papers, grants, abstracts, and you have to do it “right.” Also, I am a non-native speaker (don’t forget my charming accent), so it is a double effort. I cannot compare myself with my native speaker labmates because it is not a fair battle. But I compare my first grant with the latest one and appreciate the improvement during these past years. They did not get funded, but that is another whole post about how to accept reviewers rejection with elegance.
This is the reason why I started to write non-scientific blogs, to improve my writing and my communications skills. It may be not be perfect, for sure it is not the best. But I promise you it challenges me, makes me get outside of my comfort zone. Every day I do something new, something that sometimes scares me, and something not science-related. For this I am smiley and cheerful. I am trying to balance myself. This is my way so please let me discover the best of me!
… and let me ask is someone getting the best, the best, the best, the best of you?