I scheduled this post at exactly the right time in my life, how convenient. I’m a big proponent of learning. Maybe that’s because I’ve been in school for most of my life so far, but I’ve grown to really like learning new things. Whether it’s technical skills that will help you find a job, or just out of interest for a new hobby, learning is always good for you. On a related note, being able to learn from everything and constantly working hard to improve is pretty important for development, and having this sort of growth mindset where you learn from mistakes and failures and put in effort for improvement does wonders for your entire life outlook.
You already know that I recently graduated college and am the proud holder of a borderline useless bachelor’s degree. After talking a lot with my parents and doing a lot of thinking, I plan on taking additional classes as a postbac at my state university, because I decided my major relatively late and only took the minimum classes needed, and the other classes I took aren’t too practical either (I was pre-med, so it was all intro science stuff). So I’m going to take additional psych classes in areas I didn’t before (mainly just developmental, especially since I think I might be very interested in studying adolescent development). I also plan on taking a few more undergrad level classes in math and stats, because I pathetically lack those classes. And since math is pretty versatile, if a research career doesn’t work out, I can always go and get a master’s in math/stats and do analytics or something. So that’s the plan right now. I’m still hoping that I can get some sort of research position soon, so I can still have hope for grad school in the next year or two. After that, it’s probably just going to be a career in some stats-related work, which isn’t terrible, but not my ideal dream, you know?
But even though I may spectacularly fail in finding a career as a researcher or professor, I’ve still learned many important skills along the way. The way I see research, it’s all about the pursuit of knowledge. You are constantly thinking about the whys and the hows and the what ifs. You learn to be skeptical and not just accept something as true without some sort of reasoning behind it. You think about things in a critical way and also think about how to improve it. I really like this, because I’ve found that I like the process of doing research. Having a topic that you’re excited to find out more about, and then embarking on this long (and
sometimes mostly frustrating) journey to get some answers, is something that I’ve experienced (two research projects, yo) and have liked. It’s not that fun on a day-to-day basis, but I feel that it’s rewarding and meaningful for me. But hey, maybe I might not be suited to doing research. Or maybe the competition for research positions and grad school might just be too much for me. But because I’m doing this much, and seriously aiming for this goal, even if I ultimately fail, the effort that I put into it will leave me with no regrets. Some people might think that failing after putting in so much effort is a huge waste, and I admit, I can definitely see how people can think that. But in order to move on from failure, I think you should purposely be thinking in a way that helps you see the positive side of things while taking lessons from the experience. Now I know what it’s like to put a large amount of time and effort into a large goal. I know that I am capable of doing it, and this act of trying my best also leaves me with no regrets.
This way of thinking is sort of how I interpret the growth mindset (developed by Dr. Carol Dweck, who everyone and their mom knows. Or rather, more like every mom knows her). In the simplest terms, it’s just the belief that intelligence has the capacity to grow through hard work and effort. Intelligence is kind of hard to define, though. I tend to think of it as having both skills and an intuitive sense for something. I think that both are able to expand through working hard on it. Part of the growth mindset is learning from your mistakes, which I’m a huge fan of. It’s a good way to reappraising bad situations that befall you. Simply take it as a lesson and find something you’ve learned from it, and if necessary, re-evaluate your life based on the outcomes. Being flexible is also important.
Obviously, you can’t just put literally everything you have into something without at least some consideration of a back-up plan. That’s just being practical. I do realize that research is a competitive field and hard to break into, so it may not work out. That’s why I’m taking additional classes to cover the math and stats that I’m lacking on. Not only does it help with doing research (analyzing data, etc.) but it also opens up roads to other opportunities that I can use a backup (like a master’s in math). I’ve also taken the initiative to start online classes and tutorials to learn R, half because my SPSS license runs out soon, and half because a lot of labs and schools have started using it over other programs, so it’s definitely helpful. Plus, it’s free, and I already have a bunch of data I can use to practice analyzing. I’m not much of a programmer, and I’m not very interested in it, but I can’t deny that having programming skills is helpful, so there’s a chance I may try to learn to use Python in the future as well. Having several viable paths I could take in the future is great for helping me to not ruminate or dwell on past events. Sometimes I’ll fall into a spiral of hopelessness (even reaching suicidal thoughts on the regular), but it helps when I can see all the ways in which my future can become a successful, meaningful life.
I still struggle a bit with changing my way of thinking into something that is more hopeful and “looking on the bright side” like. But what matters is that I’m trying and putting in effort and directing my efforts into things that will improve my skills and me as a person. Trying hard never hurts anybody, and sometimes it’s just the best thing you can do.