I’ve been thinking about the topic of what I present to the world- the digital world in particular lately. xkcd #137 is one side of a case that runs counter to a lot of advice you see about being extremely careful about what you post on the internet because it’s there forever. I sometimes make the joke that Facebook will prevent everyone from holding public office or being employed in the future. If you’re not buttoned down and perfect and show an ounce of humanity or personality, you are unworthy of employment or participation in society. Is there a picture of me drinking a beer somewhere on the internet? Yes. I’m sure that exists. I even brew my own beer at home now. I never drink to excess though. A lot of nights, it’s one and I’m done- I like trying new beer and it’s varying taste across breweries the world over. However, the paranoid in me says that any potential employer finding said picture will instantly think ‘he drinks beer, he must be a drunkard and will be trouble, definitely a no’. That said, if it’s obvious someone’s a raging partier (not me, at all), that ought to raise a red flag.

Maybe the beer example is a bit silly. Let’s see what else I can dig up. I’m introverted. And that’s a problem to some because we live in a very extroverted society (talk loudly, act quickly, thinking is bad) and upon learning that, some employers who misunderstand introversion might easily just say no as well. I’m embracing it a lot more than I used to, since pretending to be extroverted all the time doesn’t work. That’s something I talk about a lot in my online postings, and easily could be held against me.

I also am fairly open about battling or learning to manage depression. It’s easier to talk about now that I’m less depressed, but I can’t say that I’m completely over it either. However, it’s important to understand that many very prominent and successful people also deal with depression and that that shouldn’t impede me from striving. I still try. Despite sometimes not wanting to. I have my very bad days. I am open about it because it has affected my life in a big way and I hope by being somewhat open about my experiences, others can be helped, especially in the academic science world where this gets swept under the rug too often.

I know I have a very grad student/postdoc view of the world- where I’m still striving for my next step and still trying to ‘make it’. In that context, because competition for faculty jobs is fiercer than ever, it’s easy to see how showing any kind of vulnerability- introversion (not a vulnerability exactly, but how I’m wired), depression/anxiety, etc. could easily be seen to be held against me by any employer; Candidate X doesn’t have any issues…we’ll go with him/her instead- thing is, Candidate X does have issues too, they just may not be as apparent as mine because I’m more open with the all too human things I wrestle with.

Which brings me to this from NeuroDojo. I don’t know how my story will turn out, as Steve Jobs says in his Stanford commencement address, you can only connect the dots in hindsight. All I can do is the best I can in the moment and make mostly responsible decisions. I am a recovering perfectionist (yes, perfectionism taken too far is a bad thing- there is such a think as ‘good enough’- deadlines exist in the world). I have been extremely buttoned down my whole life. Always wanting to do the right thing, always looking for the ‘win-win’ solution that’s best for everyone, even if it’s detrimental to me. I do get paralyzed by over-analysis at times too. And it hasn’t gotten me very far. Since starting this blog and expressing myself more, I feel better about myself and life. I don’t particularly feel like apologizing for being an imperfect human. I will bring the skills I have to whatever task is at hand and do my best. As the Mythbusters are fond of saying, ‘Failure is always an option’, but also Adam says, and the series took off because he said this I think ‘I reject your reality and substitute my own’. You can’t be buttoned down and fearful if you’re going to create change, have creative thoughts or be an innovator. I’m not a round peg into a round hole, and that’s OK. As in science, I’ll find the ‘best fit’ model for the data that is me.


Author: Ian Street

Ian is a plant scientist and science writer relating stories of plant science and scientists on his blog, The Quiet Branches as well as other outlets. You can find him on Twitter @IHStreet.

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