Ridiculous

Every writer, entrepreneur and creative type I read about has one unexpected commonality: gut-leadening fear of putting “it” out there. Occasionally, the compulsion to put forth one’s work is so strong, that fear goes unbidden. There is no chance to invite fear into one’s consideration because the idea is so spirited, so athletic, so overtaking that fear is simply eclipsed.

That does not always happen, though. Last Friday I gave a presentation to my department for the GGE Seminar Series. Students, faculty, staff or anyone else interested in attending is invited. The audience presents some difficulty: from first-year undergraduate up through seasoned research professors and the Department Head implies a considerable distance between end members.

In deciding upon the audience for my presentation, I went for the undergraduates. My reason is thus: many of these students do not know all of the wide open possibility waiting for them – possibility in scientific discovery, in travel, in pushing forward to see “it” through. I titled my presentation, Grad Student Adventures: The RaSSCAL, Russia, and Research Updates. (The title satisfied my penchant for alliteration).

The seminars last for 50 minutes and the expectation is that presenters speak for 40-45 minutes with a few minutes for questions. Normally I expect to cover about a slide a minute, but this would mean 40-45 slides and that is too great an expectation for any audience at 4 pm on a Friday afternoon. I scaled the number of slides back to 15, planning to speak for 3 minutes per slide fitting together my summer lab research, conference presentation, and doctoral research. I could take the time to tell the story, paint the picture of how these pieces make a coherent whole.

After assembling my slides, I went to the building where we hold the seminar, found an empty room and started talking my way through my presentation. And that is when it hit me full force: this is ridiculous. No, worse than that. This was stupid. And I was about to walk in front of more than 50 people and speak like I had something to say, which of course I do not. Who am I to talk to under grads about grad school, conferences, and research? Never mind the faculty and my doctoral committee who will gain stunning insight into my gross inadequacies.

And my slides! I only have 1/3 the necessary slides! What was I thinking?!

Well, it was too late. I gathered my things, hugged my venti-black-dark roast, and headed into the seminar room. With many kind and gracious comments, the host for the seminar introduced me to the audience. I took a deep breath and asked, “How many of the under grads here plan on attending graduate school?” To my complete surprise, an auditorium full of hands and arms went up. Then I asked, “for those of you who did not raise your hand, if you do not get full-time work are you considering graduate school?” The remaining three hands went up. I had my audience.

After the presentation, which did go 45 very fast minutes, I had a line of students trot down front to ask questions, make acquaintance, or follow up. One question in particular stayed with me, “how can I be a Christian and a scientific researcher?” A sincere question – and one which will require more space than this post can afford – that would not have been asked had I not been there that day to present.

Someone in readership needs to hear this today: your work matters. Elizabeth Gilbert tells fear to sit in the passenger seat on the car ride of creativity – fear does not get to hold the map nor drive. I say, and if you drive a truck, tell fear to get back to the bed and sit down. We are off on a great adventure.

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