Resilience

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Resilience 

Success is not about short bursts of hard work. Success is achieved through a willingness to grind each and every day. Greatness is not punctuated moments of brilliance; greatness is doing your best with determination and consistency.

Be resilient. 

Success is not about the hits you take. Success is about how your respond to those hits, how you bounce back from those hits, how you use those hits to make you better. Resilience is the ability to take a hit and get back up. Not just once. Not twice. But every single day. Spend your time and effort to make changes, not excuses. Take risks, knowing failure is part of the process. But when failure hits. Always. Get. Back. Up. 

Live resiliently. 

“Do your best”

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“Just do your best.”

There should be no more terrifying mandate than this. Just do your best. Perhaps it is a misnomer, for there is no “just”. 

“Do your best.” 

Often this is used as an excuse or alternative for not obtaining an external, objective goal. However, if our best is truly the bar, there can be no greater challenge, no greater calling. No one can determine your best, only you. And even then we only know our best when our best abuts our failure. When we run so hard we fall. When we study so hard we can’t see clearly. When we face questions we don’t know the answer to. When we take great risks and come up with nothing. When we love so much it breaks us. Our best is the place where our greatness meets our failure. 

If our best is the calling we will not stop, cannot stop until there is nothing left in us. The finish line fades in importance and our own limitations, our own willpower comes into focus.

“Do your best” is not an excuse. “Do your best” is the highest bar, the greatest challenge, the most extreme calling. 

Beliefs and blinking

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As human beings we are constantly searching for answers. This curiosity, this drive for truth, can be a double edged sword. Curiosity compels us to lifelong learning, contemplation, and experimentation. It drives us to discover new findings, invent new technology, and create beautiful art. However the drive to know can also attract us to people who appear confident in their answers, even when the evidence is lacking.

Consider blinking. In general, people who lie or are stretching the truth blink more. Furthermore, we have developed a way to sense that people who blink at a rapid pace are less trust worthy. It has been proposed that blink rate in the presidential debates can historically be used, with high accuracy, to predict the winner of the election. The candidate that blinks at a lower rate appears more honest. This technique has also been mastered by many cult leaders. One of the unifying features of many cult leaders, those with little to no evidence to support their beliefs, is an abnormally slow blink rate. By maintaining unbroken, unblinking eye contact with their followers, they are able to give the illusion of honesty and answers even when evidence is lacking.

The appearance of being confident and having answers is not necessarily bad; but is absolutely deceiving when it is merely a guise for ignorance. Although as scientists, we hope that we are above the traps of the con artist, perhaps we are not as isolated as we hope. We are more interested in how well a scientist gives a talk than the quality of their data and the rigor and repeatability of their experiments. We impressed with pedigree, position, and power. If the proposed beauty of science is objectivity, we must work hard to reject these biases and pursue scientific truth through rigorous scrutiny and meticulous production of data. The single, constant difference between a cult leader and a scientist must be objective evidence. Many scientists and cult leaders sincerely believe the ideas which they are proffering. Many scientists and cult leaders have large followings with positions and power denoting someone in whom people trust. However scientists must be marked by a constant reliance on data, an eagerness to be proven wrong, and a utilization of methods that can be replicated anywhere on the globe. These are the scientists, those hungry for truth and not prestige, that will change the way the world views itself. When we value data over delivery,  insightful questions over incorrect answers, and objective evidence above overconfidence, then we will have a truly scientific community.  

Pursuing excellence, together

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Surround yourself with people that inspire you, that drive you, that push you, that make you uncomfortable. 

What we want is often the enemy of what we need, of what is best for us.

Only surrounding ourselves with people that make us comfortable allows us to languish where we could be living, pushes us to complacency instead of adventure, and allows us to make excuses instead of changes. Instead, today and everyday, let us seek out those people that push us to excel, that challenge us to go farther, and encourage us to great things. Feed off the energy of one another to accomplish more, to live more, and to make a better story. Everyday.

Reading Books and Living Life

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In the immortal words of Jay-Z:

They read a bunch of words, I’ve lived a bunch of life”

Several times in the past year I have come across scenarios, whether in writing or in conversation, where I have been asked to comment on what should be seen as a false dichotomy between book knowledge and hands-on experience. Within academia, there seems to be a premium placed on book knowledge. However outside the auspices of higher education, there seems to be a skepticism, or at the very least, a disinterest, in book knowledge.

This notion of one form of learning being more important than the other should be quickly rejected. If we are to pursue knowledge, to seek truth, then we must seek book knowledge and hand-on experience. Books, or more simply the ability to communicate complex ideas and information to large groups of people and between generations, has been proposed as one of the reasons that the human race has outpaced all other species. Books, specifically written language, has allowed us to build upon the work of those before us and to work in collaboration with others who are spatiotemporally isolated from us. Airplanes, architecture, GPS, medical innovation, and countless other technologies that are taken for granted today, would not have been possible if books describing the work and innovation of our predecessors were not available. No Newtonian mechanics- no flight. No publication of scientific findings- incremental and uncoordinated scientific research and medical innovation. No writings on special relativity- no GPS. Conversely, the importance of practical experience cannot be overstated. As pertains to the study of medicine in particular, one could memorize the book on anatomy but be wholly unequipped to take hold of a scalpel and remove a tumor from the brain of a patient. One of the criticisms of education in general has been that students are taught to memorize and take tests but lack the practical skills to reason and problem solve. The ability to take tests well is excellent, but must also be coupled with the ability to engage real world problems, to cut into a patient, to fly an airplane, to climb a mountain, or to build something new. While examples ad nauseam could be used to emphasize the importance of combinatorial book knowledge and practical experience, the driving of a car is one of the best. When learning to drive a car, one must both learn the rules and the basics from a book. However, that book knowledge will not translate into the ability to gently accelerate, brake automatically, or turn gracefully into  a parking space. Instead the book knowledge opens the door for the building of practical knowledge. To attempt to do one without the other would be foolish. So too, excellence in many areas of life requires building up of  book knowledge and practical knowledge together.

For most of us this means pushing us the direction we are uncomfortable. If we love curling up with a book but despise the dirt between our toes or the intricate details of building something with our hands, our challenge is to go out and live life to gain practical experience. If we love trying things without the book, foraging ahead with little knowledge of the field or of those who have gone before us, our challenge is to pour a cup of coffee (or tea), and curl up with the book our counterparts left us. 

Therefore, instead of proposing a dichotomy to learning, how much better it would be, when all is said and done, to be able to say…

“I have read many books, and l have lived a lot of life.” 

Empathy Over Entertainment, Compassion Over Consumption, and Love Over Luxury

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As we reflect on the rise and fall of great empires of the past, numerous markers of a declining society have been proposed. While some of these markers are almost certainly innocuous, others may be the harbinger of a failing civilization. Although we may be caught up in chronologic snobbery, the erroneous perception that we at this end of history are more advanced and above the problems of the past, we should be wary of considering our civilization insulated from the incessant ebb and flow of great civilizations of the past.

One marker thought to be a harbinger of the end of the greatness of a nation or civilization is a fascination and obsession with entertainment. As we look back at the great empires of the past, they began with what we could call grit-the willingness of the people to sacrifice, to work, to build, and to suffer, believing that they could become something great. As the empire became something great often the members of the empire lost this grit, instead prioritizing comfort and entertainment over persistent work and a willingness to sacrifice. Whether this prioritization was the cause or simply accompanied the failing of the empire could be debated, however we must recognize that essentially no great empire of history has gone without a period (as short as it may have been) of luxury and decadence, before the often rapid decline and decimation of that civilization.

In a day of the globalized economy and the rapid recognition that truly no man or nation is an island unto itself, and in light of the fact that a large portion of the world’s population lives in historically unprecedented wealth and health, we should be wary of the changing of the tides of greatness as these affect every member of planet earth. Particularly in the developed work, there is an obsession with entertainment and luxury. This is not to say that there are not many people working to become better and to better those around them, but it is to emphasize that the amount of time and money that we (as the developed world) spend on entertainment through TV, video games, books, sports, games, and a host of other activities is unprecedented and rapidly escalating. More people than ever are hoping to make a living utilizing one aspect or another of the entertainment industry whether that be in music, TV, YouTube, or the plethora of other platforms available. This trend is troubling and is only getting worse.

The hope is this. Many of the platforms by which we entertain ourselves with frivolous consumption can be leveraged for much greater benefits in education, in developing new technology, and in relating to one another in more diverse yet intimate ways. It is to this end that we must strive. Both to keep the grit that pushed us to advance, as well as to leverage our advantages for the good of our knowledge and benefit of all people.   When we choose empathy over entertainment, compassion over consumption, and love over luxury, that is when we will have found true, sustainable greatness personally and societally. 

Special (pt1: a small part of nature)

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From a scientific point of view, the ’specialness’ of the human species means very little. We are one of but a vast array of species who have only arisen in the last blink of earth’s existence.  As we gaze at the galaxies surrounding us and focus on the proteins and cells within us, we realize that we are but a small part of our universe composed of the same tiny molecules that compose everything else around us. A small part of something big, made up of the same materials that surround us.

Physicist Richard Feynman said Science is a way of trying not to fool yourself. The principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.”

We should not fool ourselves in thinking that we are more, or less, than the world that surrounds us, perhaps not in a religious sense, but in a sense of the interdependence and the sharing of a mutual habitat. We are not special in our level of consciousness, our love for other members of our species, or our ability to work hard. Technology has given us a tremendous advantage as well as a tremendous responsibility to use our tools for good. No species can change and mold the environment around it to the extent that human beings can. Therefore it is our responsibility as impactful, but not special, members of this planet we share to modify our habitat in a manner which benefits all, not just some.

Real and Genuine

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Over the past several days I have been going back back and forth with a researcher in a nearby lab over what is “real” or relevant in the systems that we study. In short, are the high doses of chemicals we give our cells in culture relatable to the conditions that those cells would see in a healthy or diseased individual? Unfortunately, the answer is often no. While this is a problem that has plagued basic biological science and biomedical research for decades, it should also spark a similar question for each of us as we study life through the lense of the camera.
More than any other time in the past, we spend a large amount of time taking in and digesting information from a screen. The information and entertainment that comes through that screen has been carefully sculpted to convey a message and change our perceptions. This is not to raise conspiracy theories or become an alarmist, but rather to point out that what we see on TV and the movies actually colors how we see the world around us. In some cases the message is accurate; however, in others the message is not. So the question to consider is this: Is what I see on the screen relatable back to life? We must pick “systems” and entertainment that communicate truth. The damaging effects of dishonest depictions of life are easy to see around us:  violence played out on streets and playgrounds as learned from videogames; a selfish view of love and sex as learned from movies and pornography; a lifestyle of consumerism motivated by an endless stream of ads; a need to appear fake as all we see are smiles and successes on social media. This is the struggle in life: to pick out the real from the fake, the genuine from the forgery.  

Meaning and making marks

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Often when faced with the ephemeral nature of life, people express the desire to ‘leave a mark’.

 

Perhaps our desire, our joy should not be in the futile quest for permanence, but in the impressions we leave on those around us. Those who are just as fleeting and ephemeral as ourselves, yet who have all the same fears, dreams, hopes, and yearnings.

 

Our journey is short and our mark light.

On this adventure of life, may our goal be to journey well, as curious and gracious sojourners. May we value personal interaction over distraction,  intimacy over accolades, and strive to fully devote ourselves to loving and learning.