As I sit here, my eyes are bouncing back and froth from the blank word document to the to-do list in the bullet journal. My mind is racing with the numerous thoughts on different topics I could cover—either through a new blog post here, a new page attached to the website, or even possibly venturing into publishing my first “article” on LinkedIn.

I have to pause, take a deep breath and remind myself—“Progress over perfection”. The though of publishing anything on a site that has millions of users terrifies me—so I’ve slowly started by sharing a photograph and a quote. Neither has garnered a huge number of likes or comments, but that’s okay—I’m dipping my toes into the water of LinkedIn publishing.

Why does the thought of publishing an “article” on LinkedIn terrifies me? In the most simple of terms: imposter syndrome. While I have my PhD (something that only a small percentage of people—less than 2% of the total world population holds a PhD), and I can hold a conversation with people—it is that little voice that’s says they know more than I do, and I’m only going to make a fool out of myself.

I’m slowly trying to convince that ‘perfectionist/quiet/wallflower’ persona that it’s fine that others know more than I do on various subjects, and everyone makes a fool out of themselves at least once in their life, and they survive.

While this has been my ‘persona’ around most people—the ‘perfectionist’ has only tried to pop out in the past few years—mainly in terms of trying to figure out what to do next career wise. She is scared of making a jump that could possibly end as abruptly as her first postdoc position did, and not have a backup plan.

While this is a legitimate concern (especially now with the SARS-CoV2 pandemic still holding on), she is forgetting that she is resilient and can bounce back.

I’ve realized that there are several things that I wish I had done differently throughout my undergraduate and graduate careers, and if I could send a message back to my younger self, I would tell her:

  1. Take the time to actually take a couple of business courses (such as marketing or finance)—don’t judge all courses by the single one you took. They will be beneficial down the road.
  2. Don’t feel rushed to declare your major; also don’t feel pressured by various people to take certain courses. If you want to take the intro foreign language course—take it (again, it will be beneficial down the road).
  3. Don’t just live in the lab—try to find an organization (or two) on campus to join (and actually participate in).
  4. Network early—I know that you’re an introvert with deep reservations against talking in front of people, but you never know who you’ll talk with that could spark an interest for you in something different.
  5. Go to seminars that are offered by different departments—again keeps your interests broad.
  6. Once you’re in graduate school—again take additional classes that interest you. You might have to audit them (since they may not go with your plan of study)—but they will keep you well rounded.
  7. Read, read, read—not just the papers in your field, but whatever other subjects interest you. Also remember that you can also stretch your fiction/non-fiction wings as well.
  8. Continue to network—try to get to conferences, go to other seminars, get involved in different campus organizations.
  9. Figure out what your plans A, B, C, and D are—nothing is going to go the way you originally thought, so now is the best time to be trying to determine which direction(s) to swerve when things start to turn south. Start developing your own personal/professional development plans for your future.
  10. After graduation and you move—still make time to network in your new location, learn about different paths you can take with your degree, and above all else—realize a short break from ‘learning’ is fine but stretching too long will cause the anxiety to reach new levels and you’ll feel like you’re on a hamster wheel.

I’m getting a little better at some things:

  1. I’m remembering how much I did enjoy learning, and the different subjects that I enjoyed (such as ancient/medieval history, art history, geography, archaeology, paleontology, anthropology, in addition to science).
  2. There is no time frame/clock on when to finish the various e-courses that I’ve bought—but working through one or two a month will help me get back into the ‘learning’ game.
  3. That slowing down is actually okay—going full speed for so long, I almost hit that brick wall, but managed to slow down enough just before seeing it.
  4. Everyone’s paths are different—there are those who know exactly what they want to do, and they don’t deviate from the path; and then there are those who try numerous things before finding what it is they were meant to do—I’ve realized that I’m in the second boat.
  5. Having conversations with people on-line. While still difficult, I’m making slow progress on this front—baby steps.
  6. Changing directions in terms of the career—there is going to be a learning curve, and there will be people who know more on the subject(s) than I do—and that’s perfectly fine. There is more to life than just work, and it’s fine to take things slow.
  7. Realizing that everyone is probably going to have an opinion on what I’m doing—I shouldn’t internalize any of their opinions, I can acknowledge them, but I need to listen to my own internal voice (intuition).
  8. Working through the various issues (and triggers) of my anxiety will take time—no one is perfect, and I really don’t need to give in depth explanations to anyone in terms of certain aspects of life.
  9. While making personal/professional development plans are a pain in the ass—they are beneficial. I just need to remember that I don’t have to try to cover all aspects of life in a single year—I can focus on one or two things, and then build/branch out from there for the following year(s).
  10. And finally—realizing that the first person who I should be absolutely loyal to is myself. I need to step into my own power, embrace my strengths, weaknesses, quirks, and everything in between. I acknowledge that by being (and staying true) to myself—not everyone will like the ‘new’ me, and that is perfectly fine. It’s time to figure out who really belongs in my ‘tribe’ and who only liked me for trying to blend into society.

All in all, the past ten months have been productive in terms of self-reflection—I know where I slipped up in terms of professional development when I was younger. It may take a little more work to play ‘catch-up’, but if I go at my own pace I will get there. Anxiety isn’t the happiest of companions to have on the trip—but if I make time to sit and talk with ‘her’ weekly I think we can find ways of working together on this journey called life. And finally—realizing that it is perfectly fine being a compassionate, caring, empathic person. While I’m not sure when those traits became politicized—I’m not going to apologize for being that type of person, neither am I going to apologize for being more spiritual than religious.

Have you ever wanted to write a letter to your younger self?