No One Knows What You Can Accomplish, Except You

I was 2 months into my first semester of graduate school. The transition had been rough, socially and emotionally. I went from a close knit on-campus community. One I had been a part of for 4 years. To an urban environment with only 6 members of my class. I was struggling to find my footing.

I was lonely and distracted. On top of that, the course load at the start of graduate school was intense. Fundamentals of Pharmacology (Fun Pharm, we called it). Genetics. Molecular biology. Neurobiology. Biochemistry. I had taken similar classes in undergrad. But at most, 2 at a time. Peppered with English Literature and Psychology. Different ways of using my brain. In grad school, all my classes went in the same direction. And it was rough.

So I tried my best to concentrate and study. To put my feelings of isolation and imbalance in a box. To absorb all the information. To show my self worthy of this Ivy League graduate school. I took my first Fun Pharm exam. And I bombed it. I got a 62 and a “see me after class.”

I think I failed one test before in my life, early in college. Likely for similar reasons. It was a real wake up call. And I ended up with a B+ in the class.

I felt mortified. And worse, I couldn’t fathom why the professor needed to see me after class. What more could he say? I already knew how awful the grade was. I beat myself up plenty. But I assumed that I would make it up on future tests.

A few days later, I sat down in the professor’s cluttered office, in the one open chair. Papers scattered the room, and journals. There was a thin row of windows lining the top of one wall of his basement office. The massive computer monitor took up most of his desk.

He looked at me through thick, smudged glasses. And told me, for 20 minutes, that I should consider another path in life. That he was seriously concerned about how badly I bombed the test. That the classes would only get harder. He told me he wanted to help me, but the school had its standards. And I had not met them.

I spent that afternoon bawling.  And then I was furious. He didn’t ask me anything about myself.

He didn’t ask how I did in undergrad. He didn’t ask how I was doing in my other classes. He didn’t ask me if something was going on that would cause me to get that one grade. He had never graded any other work of mine to that point.

He took one data point and extrapolated it out to form an opinion about my entire life. Not a good scientist, at the very least. And wrong about me.

If you see the three letters after my last name, you know that I went on to pass Fun Pharm and all my other classes. I spent another several years in graduate school. They were not fun, but I did it. I defended my thesis. And got my PhD.

He was right about one thing, though. I needed to go down another path in life. One that involved Wall Street and C-Suites and consulting and writing. And love and laughter and marriage and children and hard times and great times.

My life has had nothing to do with one bad grade on one test.

And your path in life has nothing to do with one person who does not understand who you are and what you can do.

I have had many doubts about myself in life. But I never doubted that I was smart enough or capable enough to do what I want to do. The question for me is about figuring out what it is that I want. Instead of giving in to what other people want.

You know your own strengths. You know what you are capable of. Don’t listen to the idiots. They see one data point about you. About your life. And decide what you can or should or will do.  They are wrong.  Your heart is always right.

With the right framework plus the right mindset, anything is possible.

From Daily Medium on The Startup by Deb Knobelman, PhD, Sept. 2018.