Updated: May 30, 2019
One of the best lessons I have learned is that moving forward, even if only baby steps, is better than stomping on the same spot and digging a deeper hole while contemplating on where to go.
Have you ever been in a cross road not knowing which direction to take? What if I go there, what will life be like? Will I be happy? Will I enjoy doing that kind of work?
Take action even when uncertain.
“What do you want to do with your life now that you are a doctor? Me: I have no freaking clue!”
The day I defended my PhD thesis, 1st November 2007, was one of the happiest days of my life. I had made it! I had survived the mental and emotional suffering, from feeling like a constant failure in the lab. Most of my research ended up being negative data or not part of an interesting story. As scientists we are constantly being put under pressure to produce data that is interesting, sexy and attractive enough to get published. As a young PhD student this constant pressure made me feel like I had failed...I had failed in creating this so called story, but still the day I defended, I was on top of the world. Cause although I had not made the expected story, I had grown in the process, I had evolved, I was not the same person anymore. I had developed skills I did not have before and most importantly a powerful mindset, a resilient mindset. I felt if I can do this...survive the pain of getting a PhD, I can do anything! But the day I defended I was asked over and over...what will you do now? I had no freaking clue!!
”The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” -Augustine of Hippo
So what did I do after my PhD? I went travelling! I bought a brand new backpack and headed to South East Asia for 3 months. I thought, since I don't know what to do with my life, why not go travelling and exploring the world, maybe I will figure it out during this journey.
This was once in a life time experience. Traveling in Asia, especially in rural areas of Cambodia, made me realize how futile my little problems were. How privileged I was to be able to fly across the world and visit these breath taking countries, when our tourist guide in Sapa had never even visited the city next door. She told me she could not afford to take a day off work, although the distance was not so far. I met kids who lived in villages with no running water or electricity, with no proper roof or even floor in their "huts". Children with burn wounds were so common since they had to cook food over fire, and sometimes the children would get too close. There are many more stories and experiences that opened up my mind and eyes to the world. It made me realize how much freedom I had in my life. I had the CHOICE to go any direction I wanted in my life! Many people out there are struggling each day just to survive. I felt ashamed and guilty about my post-PhD-blues.
However, this experience taught me to just keeping swimming, just like Dory in "Finding Nemo" keeps saying ..just keep swimming..just keep swimming. Eventually, I will find my way, I will figure out what I like and what I don't like. The real problem was never about not knowing where I wanted to go, but the FEAR that was stopping me from taking action, to find out where I wanted to go.
F.E.A.R what does it stand for?
“Future Events Already Ruined vs. Feel Excited And Ready”
The beauty of backpacking was the feeling of just being. I did not have to be somewhere or do anything. I could just BE. Live in the moment, but for sure during these months every now and then my FEARS popped up. What will you do when you get back home Amani? What are you going to work as? Will you be successful? You have a PhD now, you gotta live up to the status and expectations of others!
So many times the obstacles in my path that was stopping me from taking action and trying out new things was created in my own mind; the fear of failing, fear of what others might think of me if I do fail, fear of future events that went really bad. The day I chose to shift the meaning of F.E.A.R into Feeling Excited And Ready...ready to take action! I started taking more and more action and learned along the journey what made me happy and what didn't.
Action is the prescription for success
One amazing, inspiring and mind blowing mentor of mine, Lisa Nichols, says "action is the prescription for success". That has been true for me and my career path, constantly taking action, even if baby steps and then evaluating; is this right for me, does it feel good, am I happy here, if not re-adjust the direction. To all of you out there who are stuck in a cross-road today, chose to FEEL EXCITED AND READY take that first step and GO! Good luck!