Scientific fact.

I was talking on the phone with a friend of mine and we were talking about the fact that she’d started her residency and how she’s really feeling like she matters to patients and just as a part of a working hospital trying to help people day in and day out (at least I sincerely hope that that’s the mission of hospitals- if ever there was an industry where people should come before profit…).

Since I compare things, I was thinking about my own career and I don’t really matter in that immediate way. And of course it brought up a lot of old thoughts from years of my life when I truly didn’t think I mattered much to anyone or myself (no that’s not an exaggeration). Now, I had more of a sense that I at least serve a function for other people (and it is important to me to feel useful). I try to help whenever I can. I suggest things to read, I supply facts, I help them find what they’re looking for. I’ll drop just about anything to give someone a hand if I can.

The problem is that it neglects someone who should also be important in my life: me. And I won’t rehash everything I’ve read about taking care of yourself, doing things for yourself, having adventures yourself that are the keys to engaging with other people and having a great life- becoming your own person, I guess is how it’s framed. I’ve intellectually internalized that message and can’t really see much wrong (I worry about being narcissistic and completely selfish, but that does seem unlikely). Getting a pet is the instant solution, I suppose.

I’ve never felt like I have a strong identity or attachment to things I like. There are things I enjoy and identify with, books I like, food preferences, coffee! None of which rise to the level of passion or love, however. I haven’t done enough to really gain those things. I’m pretty passive, not actively making decisions. I think about things before doing them, too much and then the opportunity is gone.

Science is as close as I’ve come I think; but even there, I’ve numbed myself to it (as Brene Brown would put it). I’ve conditioned the expression of joy out of my life- in that sense I’m very Spock-like. I’m not sure exactly how to re-light a fire I’m not sure was ever there, but that’s what I feel it’s going to take to actually go after things that I want (whatever those are; it’s still unclear to me much of the time).

So when my friend said that I matter to myself, I unconvincingly agreed and she instantly told me that I didn’t sound like I believe that. And I don’t. I’ve been doing new things the last few years, things that feel more aligned with what my desires are without going overboard- but maybe going overboard is exactly what I need to do, though I have no idea exactly what that would look like either. Acting on my gut instincts more often? Saying yes to everything? Saying no to more things (boundaries are important)? Jumping into something huge that I have no idea how to go about doing, but having to move forward somehow anyway (yes, this is what life is, but I’d be talking about some project of slightly smaller scope than that)?

Bringing back passion/joy/love for things is really important I think (for work, life, everything); and it has to start with me- being passionate about being me. Enjoying being me. Loving myself. As I’m sure I’ve written in the past, part of my hang up here is that as a scientist, I’m big on having evidence for things; and too often I feel like I’ve come up short in that regard- hypothesis that I matter is rejected, p < 0.05. So as I’ve done with a few other ideas I like to remind myself of, I’m posting this note to myself where I can see it every day:

2013-07-17 21.11.48

Feeling that you matter is a  message that I feel like many people don’t need to hit themselves over the head with like I do (yes, I’m sure it fluctuates and reminders now and again are important, but it’s not even a question most of the time). Being enough is one that I think a lot of people do struggle with. However, despite what my scientific brain might say,  these are facts. Our senses deceive us all the time. What is closer to us than our senses? Our brains. Don’t trust it, either. I’m actually not even sure what the experiment is to show that you matter, or that you’re enough. It’s not a DNA test. It is for things like this that I really like Adam Savage’s line ‘I reject your reality and substitute my own!’. I want to reject my present reality and substitute it with a better one.

I just finished reading Charles Duhigg’s book ‘The Power of Habit’ that I will write more about in this space, I’m sure. Maybe I can make a habit of believing that I matter and that I’m enough as is, though I will never stop learning. I think it will make a huge difference- and not being convinced of the ‘scientific’ fact that I am not enough and don’t matter, because that’s not in all likelihood real science. Anyone want to help me conduct an actual experiment?

Ever on and on.

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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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