My wife and I were discussing what it is that helps someone make the best use of a PhD or a postdoctoral tenure. Each experience offers so much to learn, what are the attitude stances that enhance learning and personal growth?
As we got more and more into the discussion, we realized that some attitudes or mindsets are detrimental to growth at every stage of education and career and some mindsets make you conducive to improvement. And all these different attitudes can be boiled down to 2 simple things, which by themselves can lead to the establishment of many other positive behaviors.
The two things are opposite in direction. So one points from yourself to the world and the other one is directed from the world towards you. We named them the Learning Attitude and the Ambassador Attitude. Let me explain.
So the Learning Attitude is that you try to turn every positive and negative experience into a learning experience. This is an inward directed mindset that can be inculcated. By negative experiences I do not mean big setbacks or life changing events, those often teach us lessons easily. I mean on a day to day basis, observe your peers, colleagues, superiors and subordinates. In the personal sphere, friends, relatives, siblings, parents, acquaintances. Taxi drivers, shopping assistants, supermarket guards, neighbors, janitors at your office, children. Everyone has some good traits, habits, tricks and methods that we can adopt. Always be on the lookout for those. Any failure, when you feel your work was passed over for someone else's, instead of just feeling anger, resentment or jealousy, focus on what is good about that work? You can also learn what not to do by observing many people. If things go bad for someone else, instead of secret schadenfreude, focus on how you can avoid the same mistake.
These learning opportunities have taught me thousands of things worth adopting and to be avoided. How someone writes a paper, how someone analyzes the data, how someone treats peers and subordinates, how someone offers constructive criticism, how kindness and true compassion will take us a longer way than arrogance and position, how to make a positive difference in another person's day, how errors impact lives, how good people take irrational decisions due to ego, how to not confuse arrogance with gravity, how people can justify almost everything they do and we cannot change it, how we can never know the background story of why someone behaves the way they do and everyone has their stories and struggles, how the system works, how to manage time, how to balance work with self-care, and so on... I am still learning everyday. I believe this is one attitude that has always helped me in my life.
The second one is to pretend you are an ambassador, the Ambassador Attitude. What this means is always remember that you are a representative of something. This is the outward directed mindset. At every moment when you are not alone, you are representing something. And try to do it with dignity and to the best of your ability so as not to fail that which you represent. People are quick to judge. Quick to stereotype. Quick to generalize. Your actions, your behaviors, your presentation of yourself and your work does not always represent solely you. You embody your institution. You portray your family, your locality, your ethnicity, your country, your state, your continent. Mistakes you make taint your whole heritage or legacy! Just depends on the audience or the person in front of you. You typify your gender, your age-group or generation, your people. You personify your whole class, your whole batch, your friends-group, your laboratory, your team. This mindset has been a great sounding board for me. You carry inside you much more than just you, and your presentation of yourself portrays all that. Always be mindful, that at any point in time during any conversation, any meeting, any conference, any talk, any presentation, you are exemplifying some other entities as well without always being aware of the judge's assessment criteria and framework. So rise to the occasion and be excellent.
Thanks to Alexey Hulsov from Pixabay for the image.