In Part II of the series on science career success, Morgan discusses the success advice from two important books, and discusses how Hollywood movies (and TV) often work to undermine one of the key pillars of this success.

I’ve been reading two very interesting books in this regard: Maxwell Maltz’s Psychocybernetics and Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. You may have heard of the latter book, but not many people have heard of the former. However, Maxwell Maltz was the “godfather” of the modern self improvement movement.

From reading these books, I’ve come up with a few observations that tie back to a science career.

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The first observation is about Hollywood and our own expectations about our lives. Steven Covey talks about the first habit being “proactive”. Between every action and reaction that we might have, we can choose to think, and change our “reaction” to an action based on our values, instead of reacting based on pure emotion.

Here’s the problem with Hollywood: protagonists who are successfully being proactive in the way that Covey teaches wouldn’t be subject to many of the circumstances that make for the best drama.

A good drama has someone who finds themselves in some set of circumstances “beyond their control,” through which they struggle to eventually gain redemption (or not).

It is that “beyond their control” part that Covey and Maltz both tell us is bogus: if we are proactive people, there is nothing in our lives that is “beyond our control”. What I mean by that is – while the situation and environment may be out of our control, our reactions to that are entirely within our control.

Throughout our lives, we’re bombarded with movie and TV messages that tell us that we are a victim of our circumstances. The messages tell us that in order to be great, we must suffer through inordinate turmoil. We must be beaten down by circumstances to an extent where we finally decide to rise up and fight.

I think about this when it comes to what people expect out of a science career. I believe that some people come into a science career with a bit of that “Hollywood” expectation. This is a view that our circumstances control us, not the other way around.

I confess: I’ve had that view on many occasions. And every time I’ve taken that view, it has led to negative things in my life and my career.

This is where “meta analysis” is so useful – by studying myself, I’ve come to realize that for most of my career, I held the bogus assumption that I am a product of and beholden to circumstances. Now I realize, that is a subtle and insidious message that has percolated into my brain unbeknownst to me, from TV and movies, but also from one other source.

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