[This post is part of a series on turning rejections into motivation. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]
Despite ourselves, accepting things can demotivate as much as rejections can motivate us.
Physics, at its core, has always meant to me studying the most basic elements of our environment: space, time, matter, forces, charge, and so on. Though today I view experiment as its equal, in graduate school I wanted to study theory — particle theory, in particular.
When I was choosing my direction in graduate school, my old undergraduate adviser pointed out to me how little money there was in theory. Without money, there were few positions. As he put it, studying theory was a route to Wall Street. From a physicist’s point of view, and mine at the time, Wall Street meant defeat, mostly evidenced by how much money they had to pay you to be there.
So I went to work for experiment. I didn’t realize that, no matter how uninterested I was in Wall Street later, I wasn’t that interested in experiment then. Taking his advice led me to do something I didn’t like for several years. His advice was sound based on what he knew of me. I wasn’t aware enough of my interests to stick with them.
I ended up leaving physics anyway after working several years on something I liked less than what I wanted to do — the worst of both worlds.
Doing something you don’t enjoy or learn from in the hopes it will lead to something better later often leads you to dislike that thing and devalue what it gets you — the exact opposite of your hopes. I could have learned the lesson to stick with what I loved with less loss of time.
Now I do what I love, enjoy or learn from the process (or both), and appreciate the outcome. Even if I don’t enjoy the outcome, I don’t regret what I did because I was enjoying myself, learning, or both.
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