On perseverance and pushing through to the next phase

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Failure is often that early morning hour of darkness which precedes the dawning of the day of success.

Leigh Mitchell Hodges (1876-1954), journalist and poet

Great advice from a true friend

It’s been about two weeks since my last post and that’s for a variety of reasons. First, I’ve been busy with a few other projects and that’s distracted me nicely. But it’s also true that I haven’t felt very inspired to write and therefore have consciously set it to the side. While this blog is still quite new in the grand scheme, it has not delivered precisely what I imagined it would – which I know to be expected and is OK, but we are prone to forget these things, aren’t we? In discussing this and a few related things, a dear longtime friend reminded me of some essential advice: it is precisely in these uncomfortable times that we must push through in order to inevitably emerge stronger. This idea caused me to reflect upon the many times in my own life I have seen this to be quite accurate. I’d like to share one of those personal stories with you.

Leaving high school: one of the first big tests for most of us

Upon graduating secondary school, there are several common paths we undertake: entering the workplace full time, going to trade school, or perhaps attending two or four-year university. Most will know this to be our trajectory for years prior, with the details being finalized during our last year of school. This is a huge change – we are truly “adulting” once we cross that threshold! Of course most of us are wholly unprepared for it and completely underestimate the challenges to come. That was certainly the case for me.

I elected to attend a four-year university, ostensibly on a pre-medicine path as I’d always intended. I selected a challenging technical university for a variety of reasons, some good, and others rather silly, such as my “guidance counselor” telling me he didn’t think I would be accepted to this school. Suffice it to say, my freshman year was an eye-opener. Despite years of “the right” preparation in the form of honors and Advanced Placement courses in high school, I wasn’t doing well. This would persist into my sophomore year, with the outcome being middling to poor grades. I didn’t know how to study, I went out with friends too often, and quite honestly, shirked many of my responsibilities as a college student. What was I doing? This was not the plan for which I had worked so hard to enter upon!

A poor “solution” and how to actually push through

My remedy to this mess in which I found myself: on the car drive home from school with my parents at the end of the semester, I announced I was considering leaving university to become a paramedic. I’d previously been a volunteer EMT and firefighter, and this new path would still be medicine, right? As you might image, my half-baked idea went over like the proverbial lead zeppelin – as it should have. I was indeed giving up, which was premature as well as a terrible idea. I certainly wasn’t choosing a path that leveraged my strengths to their fulIest, which my parents made quite clear. I don’t recall the whole conversation in detail but I remember enough of it. They were quite right: This was not at all the solution to my conundrum. I am forever thankful to them for the excellent guidance they provided.

Needless to say, I got back on track when I returned to campus. I was committed to turning this thing around! With a lot of hard work along with some much-needed changes to my social calendar, the remaining half of my undergraduate career saw big improvements. I also became passionate about research, something I initially undertook solely as a means to bolster my poor academic record, in efforts to improve my med school prospects. This resulted in me electing to attend graduate school, which I absolutely loved, and which went exceptionally well – more on that soon. I pushed through what was a disappointing, trying, and painful struggle, and emerged on a much better path.

Outcomes and a return to valuable lessons learned

Did those initial “bad” years matter, and were there negative ramifications from such poor academic performance? In short, no. In fact, the only thing I recall is a single question from my eventual first boss after grad school asking in an interview, “what the heck happened in the first two years of college?”. My response along with his consideration of the remainder of my academic record put any concern to rest. I got the job, setting my biotech career in motion, which led to all the success I have been truly fortunate to find ever since. I hope that fact might give some solace to any of you experiencing the same thing – or to parents of college students in a similar circumstance.

Importantly, what I did gain was a valuable life experience that taught me that you don’t turn away from the difficult times. Rather, you must lean into them, and push ahead to try to achieve what you set out to do. Is success guaranteed? Of course not. But turning away from the difficulty without giving it your all, certainly ensures one outcome. This lesson has served as an important reminder to me throughout my life, my career, and in all ways. Despite all that great reinforcement, I am admittedly just as prone as any of us to forget at times. This is where I found myself recently, and not only about the blog.

You mean this can still happen now?

Just four months after retiring from biotech, I’ve been enticed by potential opportunities that have come my way, including consulting in my former field. These might be very good options for me, but they might also be a convenient way to turn towards the familiar instead of pushing through uncertainty to my next phase. I am exploring a few avenues in my “retirement” right now, and taking on other work has the very real potential to derail them. My friend reminded me of this important fact, and this has given me much to consider. I worked hard to get to this point of having the freedom to spend my time how I wish, and need to take advantage of that!

While I may still elect to do some consulting – this is of course the only way to ascertain if I want to do more of that – I’m now re-committed to my present path. It may not be a linear trajectory, but I am comfortable with that. I am embracing the discomfort of uncertainty and look forward to seeing what will come of it!

What has been your experience with pushing through difficult times, and finding success on the other side of it? I’d love to hear from you. Be well, everyone.

image credit: “Mars 2020 Rover Gets a Name: Perseverance” by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

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