Few things in life come easy to me. I’d almost argue even the opposite, that compared to the average person everything feels twice as difficult for me. Anything, I will immediately fail at and no matter how often you explain anything from how to cook a simple meal to how to determine the differences in grass types will immediately feed into a void of nothingness. It’s not that I don’t care, it’s just that I can’t understand, no matter how focused I may seem, no matter how much attention I pay, I just can’t understand. It’s particularly frustrating when I want to understand but am limited by my own ability (or rather inability) to actually follow.
People have often said that I am dedicated because I work hard, and that I am ‘making them seem bad’ because I am at it often (from very early to very late), and that they couldn’t keep up, because I am racking up hours. I don’t argue with these people – but I am constantly in an internal argument, begging myself on my knees to finally understand and yet, no matter how hard I want to, I just can’t seem to progress at the same rate as others. While, of course, each journey is tailored to the individual, it sometimes feels like I am watching everyone race by, while I am counting stars on a sunny day. I feel like everything is moving painstakingly slow and I have no natural ability to do anything instinctively, that’s how I operate.
The only thing that ever came naturally to me was whales – for some odd reason their movements made sense to me. I am not even talking about their biology and their importance when it comes to marine ecosystems, I am just talking about detecting them and being able to identify them. In a rough sea with large swells and constant glare in my eyes, I can still make them out. I may be seasick, sun burnt, and nearly delirious, but if there is whales to be seen, I’ll detect them. I am sure that anyone with a bit of training would just as quickly be able to do the same, but detecting whales in the deep blue, that was the one thing I could do where I didn’t have an eternal monologue trying to explain to myself why x works like this, y will never work like that, and z is a hopeless endeavor. It was never a struggle, never hard-earned, it was just something that I did and was able to do well.
As I would scan the horizon for movement, looking for signs of life, I would get to this sanctuary of inner peace. Once I am able to detect one of these amazing specimens, I would start squealing – unable to hold myself back, overcome by joy and happiness, unlike anything else I have ever experienced in my life. No matter how often I go out, how many whales, dolphins, turtles, or just calm seas with no movement I experience, the calm that reaches me, is always the same. It carries me through the rough patches. And honestly, without this inner peace, I don’t know how I would operate on a day-to-day-basis.
Recently, I opened Pandora’s box – an inbox full of rejection letters. Literally. It’s an inbox of roughly hundred emails to jobs that at that time in my life I desperately wanted and needed. The letters have all been sent over the years of 2017 and 2018, each letter starting with a ‘thank you’ and ending with a ‘thank you, but no’. It’s actually quite amazing, each letter representing a glimpse of hope for a life that I could have had and simultaneously, a life that I never will have. As I read through the tens of emails telling me that someone else was more suited for the job, I realize that all these emails are proof for something that I’ve known since I was little: the first few hundred tries will always end in failure, but when you finally get it – you really got it.
See, we all have these things in us, things we like or dislike, things that we’re good at or bad at, things we understand and things we seem to never being able to understand, but we as humans are remarkable in that sense. Once we learnt a lesson, we keep that lesson, it doesn’t mean we can unlearn that lesson or learn new lessons, it just means that we are able to leave that part behind and move on to the next thing and eventually something will turn up that just comes to you and that’s the one thing you will then go with.
While living in Ireland has been testing my limits, it’s been the easiest and best thing that has ever happened to me and my career development. I knew very little about where I was going and how it would turn out, but it came to me easily, just as easily as detecting a whale or whatever else you use as analogy that is easy to you. I never regretted moving, I never second-guessed my decision, I never once agonized about my constant failure of understanding life lessons (or technical reports, depending on what it is I am focusing on that day). Having accepted the position, having worked tirelessly at it, constantly reminding myself that I am indeed capable of completing my PhD, all of these things come with inner peace.
I am exhausted and tired and could think of a million things that may be easier than actually undertaking a PhD but honestly, working in the field that I am at, getting to experience a learning process with all its difficulties while day and night I am trying to learn and understand and argue with myself why things are the way they are, it brings me happiness like I’ve only experienced when I see whales.
My point is, no matter where you are at, mentally, physically, in your career development or in any other area, you will struggle, you will suffer, you will be unhappy, but all of that is necessary, so when the one thing that you are meant to do comes up you actually will stop for a second and you will notice it and you will embrace it fully. Should you keep your inbox full of rejection (or anything else that reminds you of failure…) as a reminder of that? Maybe. Maybe not. I don’t think it really matters, as long as you’re able to understand that failure doesn’t define you, it’s what you do with that failure that defines you. It’s finding things that come naturally to you, things you love, things you are proud of, that’s what makes you you. And let me tell you, you are amazing.