Learning from our errors, to make the World a bit better
I made a lot of errors in my life, as anyone else.
I believe in the power of errors, however. Once you realize you've made, you are on the way of learning to not repeat them, if possible; and more important, to map them so that others have an opportunity to fall in the same.
I'm more or less in the middle of my life (I hope!), and now active in the field of atmospheric physics, on a practical-application level. I'm in deep and irreversible love with this field, and more generally with the Earth sciences. I sincerely can't say I have something real to blame me for. But, I have an experience I feel urged to share - it might be useful.
Thanks to a collection of opportunities I can't exhaustively list, I had the incredible luck to go university. In the time I was in love with biology but, the first of my family aiming at a degree, I decided taking courses of mathematics. Job opportunities were higher there, be them teaching or software development. Mathematics did attract me too, although not with the same intensity as biology, so I didn't suffer a real dilemma.
No special glory, no special blame. I've got my degree in applied mathematics, finally, more or less in time. I wasn't especially brilliant, but worked hard trying to survive the hard selection. Retrospectively I can't explain how I did succeed, but I finished the course and took my degree. What's more important for my immediate survival, I found a job as computer programmer a couple months before presenting my thesis.
This is not so a special story, of course, and is not worth mentioning any more.
What's interesting, instead, is how I didn't gain my doctorate in physiology. Now I've made it, and as far as I'm concerned there is little I can do to remedy. Nor, as I told, I'm driven to: my current professional life, more akin to geology, is something deeply satisfying me and fulfilling my passions.
But on that time, all of this was all but evident.
I told I was in deep love with biology. I and my parents didn't afford I took two degrees, but nothing prevented me from following "unofficially" some courses in biology and ecology. There I met a professor, one of the geniuses I've met in my life, who asked me to join his doctorate in quantitative physiology.
He was so, so kind, to give me some material. He knew from a friend of mine, a professor in the department of ecology, I was taking courses of mathematics, and was interested in quantitative biology in the large. So, he gave me some material so I could evaluate.
I did, and realized that was beyond my possibilities of comprehension.
More precisely, I saw the strange delay-differential equations involved and acknowledged I didn't know them in that moment. I love feeling confident on something before claiming I've something to say on it, and I can arrive at this point only if I have time, and calm, to explore the subject extensively. If I can't, I feel at unease. And that was one of these cases.
On that impression, I thanked the professor for his great consideration, and refused to join the program.
Another candidate replaced me. He jumped just in, naturally, without imagining which immense sea of troubles he was about to face. This didn't bother him, apparently. Maybe, that was because of sheer unconsciousness (he was a biology student, with almost no preparation in mathematics), or self-assurance. But, he joined the program and, as I know, got his doctorate.
The sad point is, I later discovered the professor designed the program for me<\em>, looking for someone to carry on a passion similar to his. How much I must have deluded him...
I didn't ask, on that time, beginning to blame myself even before having given the program a try.
In retrospective, I see clearly a pattern behind this first unfortunate event. In fact, I admit having never asked. It seems to me so horribly dirty, yucky and deeply inhonest to brag for something I can't give, still today, and I find easier to just do, the best and harder I can, hoping someone will notice, and praise or reward me.
And "they" notice you, of course. They do. The opposite you hope.
In the companies I was there were ugly things like glass ceilings, and I developed an extensive experience of regularly hitting them. But the greatest reason I was routinely underpaid was, I now see, I expected my effort were acknowledged. Some of my bosses did, but this way of doing sends you in the middle of nowhere.
I feel now myself in professional plenitude, doing a job I love, and sharing ownership of a tiny, yet vital, company. To get there, my path was so long however, and tortuous.
Ask, then, please ask.
Have a try, explore opportunities. It's too late for me maybe, but not for you!
(And stay sure, as now I know the trick, I'll try out my own personal testing ;-) )
And, you can. My Terrible Equations were not that ferocious, after all.
There is nothing a human mind, with the proper love, enthusiasm and determination, can not reach.
Let's just ask a bit more!