July 18, 2024

If there is one thing I will take away from my experience at Duke University Marine Lab (DUML), it is that science is based off of the first, second, third and infinite mistakes that we make. The only way to succeed is to accept your mistakes as progress.

I’ve always strived to be the best person I can be, and that’s good, right? I thought so too, until I realized I wasn’t trying to be my best self, but just trying to be the best in general. The idea of someone beating me to making the conclusion first or getting the answer right first drove me into a need to always be on top of the ball. Driving myself into the wee hours of the night, endlessly working and taking any opportunity was all I did.

If I could just complete this next step or get this next opportunity into my hands, I always thought it would be enough. But as it always happens, something comes in and steals it away, whether it’s someone smarter than me, a pandemic, the ways of the universe, or by my own hand. The latter happened more often than any other reason for disappointment, so I naturally let that weight drive me to push myself harder.

I saw my failures and mistakes as faults, problems and negatives that were a part of me. Seeing myself as not the person of achievement and more of a person of self-designed destruction became a repetitive thought each day when looking in the mirror or at my work before me. Constantly thinking, “I can be better than this. I am better than this,” was not motivating me, I realized, but actually hurting me.

Fear at Wittenberg drove me to never want to fail and to have the need to always be in control in order to never make a mistake. I thought if I was in control more, I could correct my past wrongs and make up for the spilled messes.

But here at DUML, I never have seen such a laid back, relaxed scientific environment. This past week, I have eased back and seen what a good day’s kayak trip can do to a person instead of sitting for hours in the library. I even let go a little more to really try and loosen my grip on myself. I listen to my professors and peers around me. They say that nothing ever gets accomplished for them unless they allow themselves to make many mistakes in the lab and field work.

I know mistakes are the best teachers, and I’ve learned that from watching Star Wars, but I had never taken that message to heart until now. I greatly appreciate all those here who have unknowingly shown me that I need to make a change or two. So, I’ve loosened up, taken steps back and allowed others to call the shots. I can be a little much, I know, so here’s to me trying to take the edge off and learn from my mistakes: broken dishes, poor choices, miscommunications, and really bad time management.

Now, I just say, “I can do this. And if I fail, f*** it. It’s fine.”

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