I know it sounds really stupid and hopelessly naïve but the point I’m really trying to get at is simply, does every career win or loss lead you closer to where you really want to be?
I am unfortunately not someone who believes in fate or that everything is ‘meant to be’. I just can’t bring myself to trust that there are any external forces that are somehow guiding our lives to a state of happiness or wellbeing (sorry — it’s the scientist in me). But is it possible that every decision we make means something in the sense that we made the decision because something in our brain was attracted to that decision, and by the time we’ve made a lifetime of these decisions we will finally land on whatever it is we are really looking for?
This line of thinking started for me when I woke up one day (and everyday thereafter) asking myself “what the F*** am I doing here?”. I didn’t enjoy what I was doing, and had the terrifying realization that I had committed 5+ years to doing a PhD in something I’m not sure I even care about. And while I know that the amount of time is really nothing in the span of one’s lifetime, I worried that by being so focused on the work I needed to do to graduate rather than figure out what I actually like, I would be somehow ‘behind’.
But between that realization a couple years ago and now, in the final terms of my degree, I no longer think it was a complete waste of time. No matter WHAT you are doing, no matter WHERE you are doing it, you can look around and identify what is working and what isn’t.
For example, a PhD degree is a very independent, intense, and self-guided thing. You need to come up with ideas, act on them, and communicate them in a way that makes people actually believe the results. You need to be creative, to develop good writing skills, to have a general interest in things. These are all things that I very much identify with, and I KNOW I’ve improved in all of these areas.
I may not ever think about “solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance of materials blah blah blah” after this whole thing is over, but at this point I no longer think it was a mistake.
I would really love to hear your stories no matter where you are in your career. Did you ever make a career (or education) choice that you think was just a waste of time? Do you think it’s possible to make a mistake, or does it all lead to something better as long as you are motivated and put in the effort?