I’ve learned in my journey so far that I really enjoy helping other people become more effective scientists (and human beings!) I have gone through many struggles at every stage of my career – and I’ve rarely had anyone take me by the hand and show me the way. I’ve had to grope and grasp and struggle to get here. Doing so has given me some insights that may be useful to others. Sharing those is why I’m doing this.

And I look around myself, to see some of my colleagues who’ve learned to become tremendously proactive about the specific aspect of doing their science – but not so much in other aspects of their life or career.

Very few science mentors (at any level of one’s career) teach the kind of things you might learn from reading Maxwell Maltz, Steven Covey, Mark Joyner, and others whom I’ve learned from about how to be a more effective human being.

It is unfortunate. Just yesterday I was talking to someone who knows of many mentors who force their graduate students to be in the lab 70 hours per week, always working, always producing.

That is “reactive” thinking, not proactive thinking. It is reacting to the question of “what if my grant doesn’t get funded?” “What if my competition scoops me?” “What if my graduate student slacks off?”

But forcing someone to work 70 hours per week doesn’t turn them into a good – or proactive – scientist. In fact, I’d argue that it’s the opposite. By forcing someone to adhere to a rigid schedule (or else….!), it is teaching them to continue to be in a reactive mode. Instead of teaching them the independence of becoming self motivated, they learn to be motivated by external influences (the threat of being kicked out or at least scolded).

The one Nobel laureate I know doesn’t work in the lab 70 hours per week because someone is forcing him to! No – he is doing it because he loves it! And so every one of those 70 hours is spent in proactive mode (at 80+ years old, he’s doing it because he chooses to, not because he has to please anyone else).

But each person has to figure out whether they “love it” enough to spend that kind of time on it. I argue that to be a successful scientist doesn’t require working 70 hours per week all the time. There will be some weeks like that – and more (I’ve had 100 hour weeks when working on grant proposals).

Being proactive is far more important to success than working all the time in reactive mode. I would bet money on the proactive person who works 40 hours per week having been more productive after 10 years than for the person who works 70 hours per week in reactive mode.

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