I had the incredible honor of attending the 2016 L’Oreal USA For Women In Science awards ceremony in Washington, D.C., where post-doctoral fellows, including Dr. Shruti, were honored for their contributions to science and their community.
I am, or rather you are, taking off on a red eye flight from San Francisco to New York City (where you live 10 years from now) and the stewardess just went over the emergency procedure: “Please put your oxygen mask on first before assisting others.” Emergency or not, she has inadvertently dished out some solid life advice that I wish I knew at your age. That is to say, take care of yourself, through and through, before anyone else. At first this self-serving mantra sounds off-putting. It’s not quite the rosy, do-gooder, save-the-world speech that your righteous little mind wants to hear. But it is important to see past the obvious and realize that taking care of yourself doesn’t mean ignoring your obligations to your family, friends, or community. It just means that you are mentally and physically in tune with yourself and tending to your needs, so you can better serve others and fully experience what life has to offer. Let me explain:
You’ve just turned 21, graduated college, ended a relationship with your best friend turned boyfriend, and landed your first job in a fantastic laboratory doing cool science. You are about to go out into the big, bad world ready for a fight. But there is no victory to be had, no race to win, and your combative attitude will only end up hurting you. You hardly sleep, push yourself to work around the clock, try to keep up with your friends’ late night social lives, all the while ignoring your own needs. Making time for everyone and everything else is great but you also have to make time for yourself. Life is not a sprint and you have to find ways to enjoy it, not merely endure it.
Over the next decade you are going to face many challenges: you will fall in and out of love, make amazing friends who will become your chosen family, move up and down the east coast, and get swept up in an exciting profession that will push you to intellectual extremes. These experiences will make you closely examine every facet of your being and you will consequently grow in ways you cannot imagine. By far the most important thing you will learn from this decade of change is to look within and be comfortable with who you are. This is the first and most critical step to achieve personal and professional success.
To quote your pop culture idol, Ms. Carrie Bradshaw, “The most exciting, challenging, and significant relationship of all is the one you have with yourself.” So nurture that relationship. I have come to realize we establish the foundation for our own lives and them self-neglect forms deep cracks in the emotional concrete that bolsters that foundation. Invest time in getting to know yourself. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.
Shruti, circa age 31
P.S. Start an IRA and buy lots of Apple stock. You also have to take care of yourself financially!