Songs, movies, books, news. All of these media promote and idolize uniqueness. We love unique individuals and flock to the movies to see stories of a rule breaker, a superhero, or an underdog. We soak up news of an individual who never quite fit into society, but their unique view has led to huge breakthroughs (Elon Musk, JK Rowling, Nikolai Tesla).
To be clear, I define unique as someone who does not like the standard way of doing things or sees a problem in a different way than most people. We also idolize people who are faster, stronger, smarter, or more creative than average. However, the greatness dilemma is a conversation for another post. This time, I want to focus on those who break the mold. People who go in the opposite direction from the crowd. You may refer to their work as avant-garde...
Alright, so we've discussed what a unique individual is and also acknowledged that we idolize them. Now, allow me to point out that there is a huge contradiction the world presents to us. Most of the world restricts creativity and forces us into molds (standards). There is good reason for these standards, or at least good intentions behind these standards. If you are on a college admissions board, you want to asses applicants on their ability to succeed at your university. This is very difficult if everyone hands you different credentials and tries to argue why they would be a good fit in different ways. As such, we have standard high school diplomas and standard GPA scales in order to make it easy to prove that you could be a successful student.
Now, time for the problem. We aspire to be different and unique. We aspire to change the world and break the mold. Most of the world restricts creativity and forces us into molds. We go through the traditional education system, take standardized tests, file into standard jobs. See the contradiction? So, can we be unique in an unoriginal world? Of course. That doesn't mean it is easy.
For Those Who Like Standards
There is a way that we can make it easier, encourage unique individuals, and come up with novel solutions to old problems. The best part, it is simple. There is no need to file petitions or go on Facebook to rant, rave, and yell. Instead, I suggest that each individual tries to be more open to new ideas. The next time you see something strange or think someone is approaching a situation in the "wrong" way, stay open.
I am not suggesting that we should let all the rules be broken or accept sub-par work just because it is new. Remember the definition of avant-garde includes the word experimental. People should be allowed to experiment with new methods and ideas, but that doesn't mean they will always work.
For Those Who Aspire To Break The Mold
You will fail over and over again. Do not let this get you down and do not complain about the system being rigged. Sometimes you will be rejected because people don’t understand your uniqueness, but sometimes it is because you’re just not very good yet. Keep practicing and keep improving. Stay original, continue to improve, and keep trying. See my above note about experimenting.
Now it is your turn. Do you aspire to break the mold? Do you think the traditional (unoriginal) way is better? Other opinions on the issue?
If you are reading this post, I am willing to bet you fall into one of two categories:
1. Perseverance is Key
This is true both in life and in grad school. Do not give up. There are countless articles about famous people who failed many times before finally being successful. Here is one if you are interested (opens in new window). A common problem in grad school is imposter syndrome. This is when you feel like you don't belong there, you are not smart enough, and people are going to notice that you aren't good enough to be there. We all struggle with this. The best advice I can give you is to accept the doubt and keep going. Whenever you are feeling hopeless, just remember Dory's advice, "just keep swimming." (preferably sing it in her voice)
2. Commit to the Program
My first semester of grad school was brutal. I had a bad case of imposter syndrome, I wasn't sure I had made the right choice, and I missed home more than I ever have before. My second semester of grad school was difficult, but went much smoother. The biggest difference? Commitment. Once I stopped questioning the program, wondering about whether I could make it through, and even considering dropping out, the entire experience became a lot easier. Once you're in grad school, commit and don't look back.
3. Be Open to the Learning Experience
Related to the point above, I wondered after I had entered the program if it would fully prepare me for the job I wanted. For that matter, I wondered what job was it that I wanted. Some people are fortunate enough to know what they want to be from a very young age. Both of my brothers had that kind of clarity (I've always been jealous of that). If you are not sure what you want to do or are in a program that doesn't feel quite right, stick it out and remain open. Grad school is inherently uncomfortable. You learn tons of complicated material faster than you have ever had to before. However, in this uncomfortable, whirlwind experience is an opportunity to know yourself better. In grad school, I finally solidified my career plans, learned what career I wanted after I graduated, and learned a lot about engineering, synthetic biology, molecular bioengineering, medical devices, and product development.
4. Never be Afraid to Ask
Sometimes you may feel as though you are alone, being buffeted about by strong winds in an isolated storm in the middle of a turbulent ocean. Remember that you have some control. There are a lot of things in life that are out of your control, but many times you assume things are without trying first. For example, I felt like my courses were out of my control and that I had no say in what I learned in my program. However, I spoke with my academic advisor and he helped me petition to take a molecular biology lab course. It was a process, and even after I got in, it turned out that it conflicted with another course (the advisor's course). After asking both professors about the conflict, I ended up taking them both anyway (Huge thank you to Drs. Rosen and Gilmore). That lab course was an excellent learning experience and taught me many of the skills needed in my career. As my Uncle Mike always says, "you don't ask, you don't get."
5. Rely on Your Support System
Related to the point above, when you feel overwhelmed and hopeless, reach out to your friends, family, and close colleagues. You do not have to do everything alone. This is a lesson that I am still learning and struggling with since I don't like to impose on other people. However, often your friends and family want to help. They care about you and they are willing to listen to you vent, propose possible solutions, and support you in your decisions.
I wouldn't trade my experiences in grad school for anything. It has taught me so much more than this list can encompass. Much of what I learned are a part of me. I am a stronger, more committed, and wiser person as a result of grad school. I still have a lot to learn, I have many arduous experiences ahead of me, and I look forward to tackling those challenges.
I love to hear from my readers. Questions and comments are always welcome. If you've gone to grad school or are currently in grad school, what is one lesson you learned?
A couple of months ago, I wrote a blog post about how I found my passion. Or at least, I told my story about finding one of my passions. Read It Here. In this post, I’m going to give you a few tips on how you can find your passion and love what you do.
Tip #1 – Take Action
Most of us hope we will find our life’s purpose someday, but we don’t do anything about it. If you want to know what your life purpose is, then you have to look for it. There are two steps in this process.
Step one, try out a lot of things. If you want to find our your purpose, you have to try things. You are not going to wake up one day and go, I know what I want to do. The point is, you won’t know if you want to do something if you don’t try it. This is a variation on a phrase my Uncle Mike says. “You don’t ask, you don’t get.” I try to incorporate this philosophy into most of my life; they are solid words to live by.
Step two, use introspection. This just means you need to look within yourself while you are trying new things or after. You can even do it now by looking back on your life and what you’ve done with it so far. What have you enjoyed? What have you hated?
Tip #2 – Love The Process
We all go through life wanting to be happy. One of the things we think will make us happy is having a purpose. If only we knew what we wanted to do, we would be happy every day. The problem with this is it’s not so simple. Why not? Many people focus on the goal, and that creates a problem. Many of us dream of being something, but we don't love the process.
You may want to be a rock star, but do you want to practice your guitar for two hours a day for the next five years to do so? After that, you have to find a band, produce new songs, and send those to a record label (or go down the self-publishing route). Most people don’t want to go through all that work.
So, find what you love to do and make sure you can enjoy all parts of the process. Don’t fall in love with being a #1 New York Times bestselling author. Fall in love with writing, editing, and learning all you can about the craft. You have to enjoy the process. Remember, even if you enjoy the process, you probably won’t be elated every day of your life.
Tip #3 – You May Have More Than One Purpose
This is an idea that many people struggle with. Some people want to do just one thing with their lives, but others have many things. You don’t have to be just one thing, in fact, you never will be. You can be a student, a teacher, a musician, and a lawyer. There is no law saying you can only be one of them.
There is a lot of emphasis placed upon a life purpose, a solitary purpose that you were born to do. I don’t believe this is true. You may have two or three or more purposes. These may be simultaneous purposes. It is also possible to have one purpose for several years, then switch to another one. That is okay. Accept that change in your life if it comes to it. Change is good… I wrote an entire post on it (Read It Here).
Did these tips help you? Do you have some questions about this post? Leave me a comment; I read and appreciate them all.
I have read many articles online that say writing is painful. Some authors warn aspiring writers that the road ahead is long and full of disappointment. Editing is often regarded as even worse than writing. Last week, I talked about how editing and revising your novel can be fun, or at least easier. (Click Here To Read It)
I want to counter the belief that writing a novel is painful and dismal. Writing a novel is hard work, but it can be fun. I believe it should be fun. Why would you go through the many hours of writing a manuscript if it was a chore?
Have you ever thought about writing a novel? Or are you writing one right now? Chances are, if you are reading this post, you answered yes to one of those questions. In this post, I share my personal experience of writing a novel. I explain why it is an exciting and fun process.
I once heard reading a book described as having a movie playing inside of your head. Writing is a similar experience, except the movie you are watching is created as you write it. You place the characters on the stage, give them desires and weaknesses, and then see what they will do. Sometimes the setting is already in place, but sometimes the story world builds itself around the characters as they move through it. The scenes materialize in your mind and on the page at the same time. It often feels like they emerge from a fog. As you keep writing, they solidify and become real.
Many authors, myself included, get the idea for their novel in flashes of scenes. We get glimpses of what is going to happen in the story or an image of the protagonist. We feel the need to write about these images, to figure out what the full story is.
Before I go any further, I create an outline. Writing an outline, even if it is a skeletal backbone, makes writing a novel more fun. This allows you to see any plot holes or other problems with the novel before you write the first draft. Without an outline, your draft is more likely to not make sense. This will make revising more difficult. Using an outline gives you the freedom to write without worrying about whether the story will work.
Although I have glimpses of what will happen in the book, most of the story remains a mystery. In my mind I see nothing but a black void of potential. This is a part that will stop many writers. If you have an idea for a story, but are intimidated by the blank page, just start writing. First, create an outline for your story. Then start writing and enjoy the creation of your novel.
Once you start writing the story, it is like driving down a deserted road at night. All you see is what your headlights illuminate. This is the part of your story that you are currently writing or just about to write. The rest of it will appear blank (except any glimpses you may have of future scenes). This is okay. Embrace the unknown and allow it to be exciting, not intimidating.
Have fun watching your novel materialize in front of you. Enjoy the process of creating something amazing from nothing at all. It may take you months to write your story, you may deal with writer's block or procrastination, but if you keep going, it will be worth it. The journey doesn't have to be a trudge through a murky jungle. You can enjoy writing your novel and have fun watching it all come together!
Once you’ve written your first draft (or after your tenth revision), it is time to go through the painful process of editing your writing. Every writer has been down this road. You look over your work, or send it out to beta readers and read over their feedback, you spend countless hours going over your work, adding, cutting, and altering. But why is it so painful? Why do so many people hate editing and revising? I think a large part of the problem is resistance to change.
My mom wrote her dissertation on resistance to change, and that has made the topic one I am constantly on the lookout for. We all resist change to some extent or another, but I am going to focus on the writing aspect. As writers, we spend many hours writing and it is no wonder that we become attached to our words. We struggle to cut away something that we thought was epic when we wrote it or we have trouble grasping why we have to add in information and how much we need to add in for our readers to understand what we are trying to get across. Removing (or at least lessening) this resistance to change will make the process of editing and revising your novel a lot easier, and dare I say… fun?
Letting go is one of the best things we can do for our writing (and our lives in general). Acceptance to change is important for everyone because all of life is change. You cannot stay the same throughout your entire life, and your life will not stay the same for you. No matter how much you resist change, it will happen anyway.
Allow me to digress for a moment and use some examples from science. Our bodies are made up of cells, and these cells are made up of chemicals. Throughout every day of our lives, millions of chemical reactions occur inside these and between these cells. Each of these chemical reactions changes the molecules involved. Now, if you were to stop these changes from occurring, life would stop. As you can see, change is necessary at a molecular level. In order to learn anything in life, your brain has to change. The neurons that make up your brain are constantly undergoing changes, creating new connections, myelinating themselves, and being destroyed.
If you would prefer a non-scientific example, let us look at a larger scale. If you stayed the same throughout your life (biologically impossible, but let’s try to separate from that and focus on your place in life) then your life would be very boring. You do not want to remain in one place all your life, or work the exact same job with the exact same tasks, or only eat the same food over and over again (well, maybe if it’s your favorite).
We resist change because we believe that it will change who we are, or that we will lose ourselves. Does the sky lose itself as it changes in hues and the number, size, and shape of the clouds change? No, the sky is always the sky, just a different one. Do not hold onto who you are now, embrace change and know that it is life itself. Without change, we would be a stationary, unmoving, unfeeling, bleh object. We change every day, but we are always ourselves.
Now, moving past the philosophy and the broad life picture, allow me to relate all of this to your novel. In the same way that we resist change in ourselves and our lives because we believe we will lose ourselves, we (writers) believe that changing our story will destroy our story. It will not. The edits and revisions you make to your story will make it better. Allow your story to grow and evolve into a better version of itself. Do not fear changing your story but embrace the changes and revel in the wonder of how your story becomes different but is still the same story. It is a better version of itself, but it is still itself.
I hope that this post will make changes easier to accept for you and that you will have more fun in your editing and revising process and perhaps in your life as well. At the very least, this post should have made you think a little. Feel free to leave your comments and let me know what you think. I look forward to talking with you.
Although it is not a long journey for everyone, my process of finding what I love took many years. All of the previous posts on this blog have been about writing or general productivity tips but I am hoping to include some more of my love for biology and medicine.
"Many people die with their music still in them." This quote is from Oliver Wendell Holmes and for years it petrified me because I believed that I would be one of these people. When I applied for college in 2011, I had looked through all of the majors and found not a single one of them interesting enough to do for the rest of my life. I want to say to anyone reading this that is unsure about what they want to do that it is okay and you will not necessarily "die with your music still in you."
I was accepted into UCF as a mechanical engineering student but before orientation I switched to a biology student. Around my sophomore year I decided that I would go to graduate school for physical therapy. Throughout all of these decisions, I wasn't happy with any of them. I did enjoy my biology classes but I didn't know if they would lead to a satisfying career. I didn't really enjoy physical therapy, especially once I started shadowing, but I saw it as the least awful option for my future.
Looking back now, it is incredible that I stuck my pre-PT track for so long when it was obviously not for me. What I did enjoy was my classes in biology, medicine, and physiology. I loved learning about the human body, the cells, the processes, the pathways. The only problem was, I didn't know what careers out there related to these besides doctor or professor.
By the end of my junior year, as I was preparing to take the GRE and looking at physical therapy school, I finally came across biomedical engineering. It was the perfect fit. The more research I did into the job, the more excited I was. It combined my love of biology, physiology, and medicine, and it added in an extra component of engineering that made it so I wasn't just researching but could also find cutting-edge applications for my knowledge. This semester, I was accepted into the graduate programs of Boston University, Carnegie Mellon University, and the University of Pennsylvania.
For anyone out there, whether you're still in high school or you're undergrad, or even if you've already graduated, don't settle. If you're not happy with what your current plan is, then keep on looking. It took me many years to find what I love but I'm glad that I never settled for anything less. All you have to do to find what you love is keep searching and eventually you'll find something that "speaks" to you, something that makes you excited.
Anyone who is trying to start new habits, or maintain and improve the ones they already have, knows that it is a lot of hard work. You succeed for a little while, then you "fail," then you succeed again, and the cycle repeats. This is okay. It's a natural part of building any habit, and it's even possible that you aren't "failing."
Allow me to clarify what I mean by not failing. Of course, if you are not sticking to your habit, you are technically failing at it, but sometimes you have to look beyond your habits. Chance are that you want that habit to stick because you believe it'll make your life better. In this way, the real goal is improving your life, not sticking to your habit. So, as long as you are still working on improving your life, then it is okay that you "failed" at your habit (at least temporarily, you'll have to decide if you want to start it again or let go of that habit).
More than likely, you even replaced the habit you were working on with another one. If the new habit you're sticking to is good, then keep are doing it and either add back in your old one, or just let it go.
I've neglected posting to this blog for several months now, and I've also neglected several of the habits I was working on building. For a while, I felt bad about this. However, I've come to the realization that it's okay. While I "failed" at my habit of posting to this blog regularly, I succeeded at the habits that replaced it: studying for classes, working a summer job, and studying for the GRE. All of these were great habits.
If you feel like you are failing at something, check to see if you are actually failing at improving overall, or if you've just started new habits that are equally helpful, if only in different ways.
February is almost over, so I'm going to continue my post from last month about goal setting, new year's resolutions, and creating habits that will stick. The method I am using right now involves only setting a goal or two per month to work on, this way you do not get overwhelmed. They also have to be concrete, easily track-able goals.
I have continued my goals from last month, and improved my resolve to stick to them. What I mean by this is that last month I missed 4 or 5 days for both of the habits. This month however, I only missed two days for waking up early (23/25 successful) and only one day for my writing everyday (24/25). I've also built upon my writing goal. Last month, I wrote for 20 minutes a day, and now I'm writing for 30 minutes per day.
For the month of February, I worked on not eating after 7:00 PM and meditating for 5 minutes every night. I missed 5 days for meditating (20/25 successful) and 8 days for no eating after 7 (17/25 successful).
One of the good things about implementing goals a few at a time is you can see which ones fit your lifestyle and which ones do not. Not eating after 7 sounded like a good habit to me, but after this month, I'm planning on dropping it. I did not notice any improvements in my sleep or digestive health, and I found it unpleasant to stick to. However, my meditating habit was difficult, but helpful, so I will be continuing that habit into next month.
You can see that by layering new goals on top of old goals is a highly effective strategy. This is because the old goals become habit and this frees up mental space to think about and focus upon your new goals. My new goals for the month of March are to practice guitar every day and to do strength training (push-ups, squats, and planks) every other day. I will include rest days as being successful for tracking purposes.
If you have any questions or just want to post what you're goals/habits are, please leave a comment.
Last year I wrote a post about goal setting and how to make sure that your new years resolutions don't fail, or at least, how to make it more likely that you'll succeed. Although my goals were okay, they still didn't last, and I've worked out the bugs. How can I be confident that this isn't just new year's hype? Well, there's a reason I waited until the end of January to write this post. I've been testing out my new method, and I'm happy to say, it works!
Here's the problem with my goals last year, they weren't specific enough, small enough, or simple enough. This year, my goal approach is about starting simple and small, and then scaling up to the level I want to achieve. Also, all of my goals are trackable. The theory behind these points is simple. If you shoot for too big of a goal, you're likely to get frustrated before you achieve it and quit. If the goals are too complicated, then you're likely trying to achieve several goals at once. If you can't track your goal, then how do you know you've achieved it?
What have I achieved in the month of January? I have started waking up early every day, and I also now write every day. For the past several years, I've wondered about waking up early (all the successful people allegedly do it) and I've also been trying to get myself into a good writing routine. I have now woken up before 7:30AM, often at or before 6:00AM for over 26 days, and with the exception of 1 or 2 missed days, I've been writing consistently for almost 20 days.
Why could I do it this month when I've failed in the past? I only focused on these two goals all month. They are things I can easily track (I use lift.do for that) and I didn't overwhelm myself with several goals or overly complicated, large goals (such as write a novel or get good grades).
So, here is what you can do if you'd like to follow the method I'm using. Break down your goals so that they are small, simple, and trackable. Then, assign each month of the year 1 or 2 habits that you want to work on. Keep track of them, and maintain them for the whole month before you load on any more goals.
For February, I am going to continue my waking early and writing habits, and I will be adding in meditating every day and not eating after 7:00PM.
If you decide to pick a few goals to work on, let me know what they are in the comments. Sharing goals publicly has been proven to help you achieve them.