Everyone Is a Teacher, So Learn from Every Encounter

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NIH-Best Series Post: How I’m Creating a Career as a Dual Scientist and Storyteller

Tactic #5: Everyone Is a Teacher, So Learn from Every Encounter


Imagine this:

You’re halfway through a dense lecture, struggling to find joy in notetaking on an endless slideshow. You crave engagement, but just can’t seem to shake your groggy mindset.

Maybe you’ve been hit with imposter syndrome, feeling as though everyone knows more, accomplishes more, and is wiser than you. You watch their actions, feel inspired by their walk, talk, and charisma. If only you, too, could have it all.

Perhaps your employer, roommates, PI, or undergraduate students have rubbed you the wrong way. You don’t appreciate so-and-so’s work ethic, management style, or dirty dishes. Unlike the aforementioned imposter syndrome, these tendencies are the epitome of ‘what not to do’ in your eyes.

Most of us have experienced at least one, if not all of the situations described above. As though graduate school or post-doctoral training were not stressful enough, these complications cause confidence to falter, thus adding an unnecessary wrinkle in a precariously fragile life period. What is one to do?

First and foremost, you must change how you lament about problems both trivial and significant. Try this exercise I use in nutrition counseling scenario; If you were my client, I’d invite you to consider the following:

  1. Understand that the world does not happen ‘to’ you- You are an active participant in your interactions
  2. The three scenarios above highlight various unfulfilled needs. Since we’ve already acknowledged #1 (you call the shots) how WILL you address this need? (Not might, not perhaps, but WILL). Aim and fire; In other words, speak with conviction, intention, and follow through. Stay with me, as now we’re making progress!
  3. To truly operate as the artist of your reality, you need to be a team player. This concept brings us to post #5 in my 5-part series “How I’m Creating a Career as a Dual Scientist and Storyteller.” This month’s tactic is

“Everyone is a teacher, so learn from every encounter.”

True to form, you’re a scientist through and through. You need examples, evidence, and strategy, rather than accepting this notion at face-value. Touché, friend- allow me to assist. Here’s the game-plan:

Treat each day as a mission- No matter the encounter, extract a lesson from each individual you meet. Perhaps you encounter a wise individual whom you’d like to emulate. This person is charismatic- upon closer examination, you notice key character traits, as they speak with conviction, make eye contact with others, smile and laugh easily, make others feel comfortable, and walk with their head held high.

Excellent observations! As the artist of your reality, you call the shots- When will you begin to adopt some of these respectable traits and leave ‘imposter syndrome’ in the dust?

Now, not all encounters are pleasant- just see scenario #3 above. These interactions are just as valuable, however, as learning what NOT to do will serve you equally well. Take note of these unfavorable characteristics, and objectively ask yourself if you resort to similar bad habits on occasion. Chances are, you do! Rather than wallowing in bitterness towards other individuals, silently thank them for helping you check yourself, and for keeping you on a path of self-betterment.

Finally, let’s throw in an extra credit strategy, as we scientists do operate in daily life outside of the lab (really really). Say a friend or family member has a wicked sense of humor, a free spirit open to adventure, or a knack for authentic devotion to cherished relationships. Begin paying close attention to these beautiful traits, taking note of the smallest ways this individual demonstrates them in daily life. Appreciate these best qualities, and allow them to make you a better person in the process.

Engaging in daily interactions with heightened attention to these details will serve you well. Everyone, whether a scientist or not, is a teacher; Humbly take lessons as the perpetually curious student you are.





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