Last night I met a guy who’s on a death march… (pay attention if you’re in a science career)

No, not physical death of his body, but close –

He runs an Italian market in my locale (I don’t want to identify it specifically – he’s a nice guy and I wish him all the best).

It’s his business that is on the death march.  He is several months behind on rent, and is in a place of desperation.

It shows – he has become so desperate for money to pay the rent, that he’s forgotten a bit about the one and only one thing that could get him out of the mess: great customer service and satisfaction (along with some more marketing to get the word out).

While sampling some great Italian wines, we heard about his story.  Most of it was about stingy customers, a landlord who is inflexible, and so on…  Again, he’s desperate.

Yet his very desperation is making his situation worse.  A few customers might shop out of pity (I bought an extra bottle of wine for that reason) – but most will just feel weird about it and avoid it – unless they think they can get a bargain due to a “going out of business” sale or something. (Hey, I heard of one business that is successful because they perpetually have going out of business sales… funny, that).

This illustrates something that for many people is a loaded phrase: “The Law Of Attraction.”  Most people who teach this law talk about all sorts of metaphysical voodoo and stuff – hence it can be quite controversial.

Yet in practice, it is quite simple.  This guy is so focused on how he’s failing, that his effort, energy, and creativity is not focused on succeeding.  No voodoo there, just a very simple problem with a simple solution.

Sadly, I see the same death march happening with quite a few of my struggling colleagues.  Funding is tight.  Desperation sets in.  People get more grumpy, more competitive.  They alienate people, and loose confidence (having no confidence is a death-knell for a science career).  And so it goes in a spiral downhill.

But here’s the thing.  This guy who runs the Italian market could turn it around with a major shift of his mental approach.  It is not the outside circumstances that are causing his failure – it is the decisions he’s made and that he continues to make.

Same thing goes for science.  Yes, things are tough.  Yes, times have changed.  Yes, we aren’t able to do things the way we did them before.

But if we get pulled into that cycle of negativity — the death march — the game is over before it started.  Once you’re in the death march, it usually takes something pretty major to get you out of it.

So use the “law of attraction” in your favor.  Ignore how “bad” things appear to be, and simply focus on what is within your power to change.  And just do it.

I wish I had time to run a wine shop – it would be fun for a while!

    3 replies to "The death march…"

    • Brian

      Exactly — one doesn’t go to a wine shop to hear someone wine.

    • Julie

      That’s me, a scientist on the death march. I’ve asked colleagues how they deal with this roller coaster of grant submissions and rejections, and the theme of their responses is “self-medicate.” I’ll have to keep the “law of attraction” in mind!

      • morgan

        Hi Julie, I’ve tried the “self medication” route. It didn’t work for me. I love a good wine or a good beer (and sometimes even a good martini!) – but I’ve found that doing those things regularly simply saps my energy. Energy is such a vital substance in dealing with challenges like this. So when my energy is lower, I don’t deal as well. It just contributes to the negative spiral….. so while I sympathize with your colleagues’ suggestions, I don’t agree….

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