A desire for achievement underlies every goal or plan. But as we pursue our goals, life tends to throw up obstacles that throw us off course. This post considers how we can keep going when life throws us a curve.
When I was forty-five, I quit working as a scientific researcher to become an entrepreneur. The timing was perfect. Our research group had lost a grant and downsized from a team of six to a remnant of two. I had been the last person hired—you know how that goes. I had some offers to stay in research–one was even an assistant professorship at Harvard. But for personal and family reasons, I turned them all down and decided to strike out on my own.
My reasoning was simple:
I was a scientist studying Alzheimer’s Disease. The field was a boiling cauldron of discoveries, each rising to burst gloriously only to be rapidly swallowed up by those following, and all of them together rapidly assimilated into the mix of knowledge my colleagues and I all fed upon as impetus for our own research and thinking. Every day seemed to bring a new article heralding yet another major advance in understanding.
But the reporting in the newspapers and magazines was almost always unbalanced and often inaccurate. This is not a condemnation of journalism… it was hard for those of us in the field to keep up; how could one expect even an experienced generalist to stay abreast of developments? The counsel among my peers was that if your name was correctly spelled in the press, you should be satisfied—and grateful!
The rapid growth of knowledge made it nearly impossible for Alzheimer caregivers, burdened with the huge task of caring for loved ones, to understand what was really happening.
And therein lay my bright idea.
My plan was to translate the fast-moving events of research into language understandable to the average person. I would put out a newsletter that went behind the headlines to the actual scientific articles and, in addition, provided the background necessary to understand how new findings fit into the overall picture.
Having been an educator before I became a scientist, my background was admirably suited to the task.
It made perfect sense.
So, I made a one-person business plan, set goals, secured financing from our family coffers and began. Six months later, I refunded my subscriber’s money and went out of business.
What had I learned?
I learned that what seems a perfect solution may still not work. I learned that success lies in being true to who you are, and that we have to know ourselves well enough to be comfortable taking what may seem to be a step backward. I learned that, as John R. Platt wrote in 1949, that we move forward not by the way that we plan, but by the way that we must. Platt espoused that idea in a lovely little book called The Excitement of Science. In it he compared progress in scientific research to the process of climbing a mountain.
Not by the way that we plan, but by the way that we must.
A truth worth remembering as we travel through life. Intermediate goals—a certain job, a particular award, a specific companion—may move beyond our reach. The way we must travel may not be the way we planned. It may not be a way we would choose.
But as we journey on regardless, a life well-lived is still within our grasp and will always remain so.
We just need to carry on.
A child is born handicapped, a spouse deserts us, a job opportunity comes to nothing, a loved one dies. Yet, we carry on. Not going the way we planned, or by a way we choose, but by the way we must.
Sometimes nothing makes sense. Life doesn’t have to be fair, and we may not always win, but the only time we truly lose is when we refuse to keep going.
Until next time,