Thoughts on not winning

Maybe it’s the fact that my PhD is 11 years old as of today, and I’m now considered “mid-career” and not “early career”, but I’m having some Feelings.

It’s OK to not be “the best”.

It’s OK to be who you are.

It’s OK to try to be the best version of you, and not try to be anyone else.

It’s OK to not put your shoulder 100% into things 100% of the time. (Although this is a life lesson I have yet to fully absorb…see the deep circles under my eyes…)

It’s OK if your path takes detours, if it is non-linear, if your endpoint changes with time.

I was a childhood high achiever, dreaming of being “the best”.  Fun fact, and the fact that was really important to me for many years but isn’t really relevant at all to me today, is that I graduated from a flagship public university with two bachelor’s degrees at the age of 19, and started graduate school in a top-tier program immediately thereafter.  I was an ambitious and focused teenager.  Now, many years later, I am definitely not “the best”, and it’s OK.

But still, I would like to win SOMETHING.  No early career awards for me.  It kind of stings, but it is (or will be) OK.  My husband keeps reminding me that I have gotten a boatload of grants, of the type that I can keep applying for after the “early career” phase is over.  The size of my research group reflects my success in negotiating a start-up package (ask me how, if you are curious) and bringing in all those grants.  And yet, it would have been nice to have a shiny “early career” award of some type.  Lucky for me, I am not at one of those places that requires it to get tenure.  I know why I didn’t win anything, for reasons that I am actually totally fine with and understand, and fundamentally wouldn’t have changed because it would have affected my style of doing science.  I’d rather be here without an early career thing and keep doing science my way rather than have tried something else and maybe had a better shot.

But it would have been awfully nice to win SOMETHING.