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Category: Coaching

The Right Stuff for Scientists: Courage and Property

Posted in Careers, Coaching, and Leadership

One little secret, for young scientists who haven’t discovered it yet: the most accomplished scientists are not necessarily the brightest people in the field. Creativity and dogged determination are important, but two qualities also distinguish great researchers — courage, and the ability to claim ownership of one’s domain of expertise.

The courage to fail, and the acknowledgment that public failure is a possibility, is critical for a highly successful career. You need to be willing to promote your theories, even though they may be wrong or may be misunderstood. As an extreme version of this, see Richard Feynman’s wonderfully titled book: What Do You Care What Other People Think?: Further Adventures of a Curious Character. Before you stick your neck out at a conference or in a publication, you need to get informal feedback from colleagues. Once you feel confident about your work, however, you need to take the risk that you may make a fool of yourself — even if you are right.

In order to gain this confidence, and to have earned it, you must be able to claim some turf in your scientific territory. Care enough about what you have observed and understand its scientific value well enough that you can claim it as your own. There’s a tricky balance here: you must feel so confident of your work that you can defend it, yet you must be flexible enough to yield if you are proven wrong with good reason. Too many well-known scientists have repeated their disproven theories at conferences long after their closest colleagues have quietly written them off.

Are you a genius whose work nobody understands, or are you a stubborn, intractable person who won’t admit that you are wrong? Your closest associates can help here, if you let them. Listen to their logic, trusting that at least they don’t intend to shipwreck your career for the sake of their own success.

Once you can properly own your accomplishments, courage will come more easily. Junior scientists should look to their seniors for examples and inspiration. Find people who have persevered despite repeated rejections and eventually remade their fields. And don’t be afraid to be afraid. The only way to build your courage is to acknowledge and then ignore the fear.

Treating Myopia

Posted in Coaching, and Consulting

Myopia is a condition of attention and concentration. The mind naturally defends itself and its interests. Long before and after Freud observed (invented) the Ego, it’s has been well known that we mediate between what we really want to do and what we think we can get away without shame or punishment.

Given all this work to do, and the limited amount of psychic ram available to Homo sapiens, how can we expect to attend to and take care of our long-term interests? How can we possibly even see ourselves clearly, or at least imagine how others see, hear, and judge us?

Psychic myopia is thus part of the human condition. And that’s why we need others around us to mirror us accurately, to nudge us out of our ruts, to help us to lower our fear and greed long enough to get perspective.

There is no cure for psychic myopia. But we can borrow spectacles from those whose professions enable perspective in various dimensions of life. Good therapists, good consultants, good coaches, and good spiritual advisers.

Psychic myopia, conversely, can harden when we put ourselves in the company of bad therapists, bad consultants, bad coaches, and bad spiritual advisers. They tell us, at first, that what we see is true and complete, that we are wise and that the world is foolish. They stroke our egos, blinding us with our own limited vision.

How do you tell the difference between the good spectacles and the blinders? The good spectacles make us feel uncomfortable and a bit out of control at first, but soon we feel better and more effective. The blinders make us feel good at first, but soon we grow smaller and more dependent.

If you are looking to others to gain insight into your business or your life, which help with psychic myopia are you receiving? Can you tell and feel the difference?

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