Embracing the Wrong

failure

It has been a little while since my last post here. I could certainly blame being busy for that absence. It is a convenient excuse, and one that I was using on myself every time I thought about sitting down to write the next. But it’s not really true. The actual reason was a tiny little bit of negative feedback that punctured my yay-I’m-a-real-life-blogger bubble. You can see the interaction here.

It was such a little thing. But it really shook me, and it’s taken this long to process it. The problem, in fact, is that I really don’t like to admit that I’m wrong, even to myself. And that little conversation taught me in a flash that I was WRONG, for several reasons. I was wrong in that I didn’t do my research before smashing out an opinionated blog post and sending it off to a professional blogger. I was extra wrong in being so proud of my own efforts that I failed to consider, even for a moment, that I might be the naïve, biased writer I so desperately don’t want to be.

But I was most wrong because I subsequently forgot the first rule of research science. Embrace the Wrong. The fuck-ups, the failures, the do-overs? That’s science happening, right there. But in the boxes in my head, this was Writing, and not Science, and somehow I forgot that fundamental rule. If I look back on my 4+ years in the lab, most of it is failure. That sounds terrible, but any researcher will tell you it’s the truth. The only way that you get to the groundbreaking discoveries, the newsworthy, the change-the-world stuff, is by slogging for months through stinking, knee-deep failure.

I will guarantee that every research scientist in the world has had an ‘I fucking hate science’ moment. Most have had more than one. And this was almost certainly brought on by a failed experiment, or missing a time point and ruining all the hard work you did. Failure, right? Wrong. Thomas Edison, even though he was the pioneering douchebag of science, said a very wise thing once. He said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” And that is the mindset one needs to embrace as a scientist. Because if we pay attention to the failure, wallow in it, it will overwhelm us.

So, get to the point, right? Well, I don’t want to come to some romantic, never-give-up conclusion here. What I wanted was to slog through the ostensible failure of my last post. I’m gathering some data, learning some new lessons, trying not to do something so silly again. I’m embracing the wrong, the only way I know how. Like a scientist.

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