Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Embracing "wrong"

For the past few weeks in the early mornings, while waiting for the fog to clear, my coworkers and I have been busy destroying 20 years worth of work. Laying out the bins for our portable laboratories that go out to the local schools, we removed and disposed of reagents and teaching tools that others created or cultivated, all while restructuring and thinking about what made the most sense to use as scientists for approaching a topic. The results from these sessions of purging have been shocking for most that knew how things were before, with not only lighter mobile labs and a complete restructuring of the space that houses them as well as them, but also the stripping of mindset and misconceptions that were deeply rooted in fear of failure and the "correct" way to teach these topics. Never mind that doing so has inhibited the very mission we've been trying to promote.

Given what is happening in my professional life, it's hard not to make comparisons to my personal one. To date, Grey and I have been told we made a terrible decision with quitting on Boston. And yet Grey has been happier than I've seen him in a long time, pursuing work and collaborations that were not possible before. Teddy and Maddy have been embracing their bikes, enjoying our weekly routine of hitting the bike path on Saturday mornings; all made possible by putting training wheels back on their bikes and promoting them getting out there over learning the "right" way. With Teddy, we've hit a break-through with behavior when we realized giving him breaks with Legos and praising him for good behavior resulted in a kid who was eager to please.

And then there's my situation where I've started turning away recruiters, telling them point-blank that I'm not what they are looking for with some of these positions. Me telling them "no" has suddenly made me desirable, which has gotten a bit annoying.

From a young age, there's programming we are subjected to about the "right" way to do things. Starting with our parents bragging about milestones and achievements to later us being rewarded for taking certain paths or reaching certain milestones within a prescribed time, we're trained early on about the "right" way to lead our lives, with falling outside this perceived correct way as deserving any and all pain that results. The problem with this mindset is two-fold: the first being that terrible things happen to good people, while amazing things happen to scumbags. The second is that being so afraid to doing anything that isn't "right" stifles creativity, exploration and discovery of things that would never be known otherwise.

The days of purging have brought a lot of this to a head, with us ripping of excessive amounts of labeling and tossing materials that should have been discarding years ago but hadn't under the guise that it was somehow impossible to understand the lesson without it. The problem is by adhering so rigidly to a "right" way of doing things, this program has effectively become irrelevant and out of sync with modern biotechnology. Fear of failing or breaking things has made it necessary to not only burn down the house but also to throw the naysayers into total panic attacks about all the wrong in order to turn things around.

The thing is, what is resulting from all these wrongs, both professional and private, is fairly exciting. In less than a month of riding, Teddy is close to having his training wheels removed. While Maddy will likely take longer given that she bikes like an old lady and has no interest in speeding up at this point, she's none-the-less excited about Saturdays coming and doing things her way. Never mind the professional gains that are being made by both Grey and me at the moment.

All possible due to embracing "wrong" and being willing to fail.


  1. I think you're highlighting a fundamental dichotomy. Taking guidance from the outside (such as the Old Testament, authoritarian parenting, very hierarchical organizations) vs heeding guidance from the inside (the gospels, connected parenting, more egalitarian structures).

    I'm a fan of the inner, though it takes awhile to get there (and it helps to have some trusted outer voices who want to get you from a newborn to an inner-aware adult).

  2. Being willing to fail is such a wonderful way to open doors and reach new heights. Great post!


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