How to Be the Awesome Scientist Instead of the Passenger

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“What is a creative living? Any life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.”

Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic

Jack (my 7-year-old son): So when I grow up, can I be anything that I want to be?

Me: Yep.

Jack: So adults can pick any job that they want to do?

Me: Yep.

Jack: So why aren’t you a scientist?

Me: <Silence>

Be All You Can BE

Jack happens to think that being a scientist is the coolest job in the world. In his mind, if that’s the coolest job in the world, then why would anyone not want to be a scientist?

You can’t argue with that logic.

What made his astute comment even more brilliant was his sense of hope and wonder. He sees no obstacles. He only sees truth and the way to reach that truth. If scientists are cool, then you should go out and be a scientist.

As a parent, one of our main jobs is to cultivate that sense of confidence and to encourage it whenever we can. I know this, yet I tend to forget to apply that same thinking to my own life.

The problem is that I am living in an adult world that is clouded by all of my adult thinking. If you ever want to cut through that noise, then sit down and have a conversation with a 7-year-old. They tell it like it is and they do not pull any punches. Why would they? They have no reason to doubt themselves.

What is Always Important?

I have spent a good deal of time recently trying to refocus on what is most important in my life. Two of those things happen to be family and writing.

Family is the #1 thing on my list and that absolutely comes before anything else. Spending time with my family, spending time with the kids, helping them with their homework, playing bears with my daughter, reading a story at bedtime; these moments are the foundation of my life.

Writing comes next. I don’t want to be a scientist, even though I am sure it is as cool as Jack imagines, but I do want to be a writer.

If I told Jack that “I’m a writer” then I imagine he would say, “Cool. What do you write?” He would accept that statement as fact. I wouldn’t need to spend 20 minutes trying to convince him that I am a writer.

Now on the other hand, when I tell myself that “I’m a writer” I tend to hear a different voice; an old, angry voice that is definitely not a child. A voice that says, “Really? You? Why do you think you deserve to be a writer? Who do you think you are?”

Yeesh. Just thinking about that old voice gives me chills.

Does that voice every go away? No, probably not.

I spoke with my friend, Adrian, the other day and he is indeed a genuine writer. He has written 3 books and the paperback version of his hit novel, The End of The World Running Club, comes out in a few months. This spring I’ll be able to go to a bookstore and hold Adrian’s book in my hand.

Despite all that and his obvious talent and skill, Adrian admitted that he still hears that voice. Even while holding a proof-copy of his soon to be released paperback, he still hears that voice.

The Passenger

Let’s face it. That old angry voice is coming along for the ride. That is a fact. The question is, which seat do we give him in the car?

Do we let the old angry voice drive the car?

No. Probably not the best idea.

Instead, stick him in the back and make him look out the window. Turn up the heat and lock the windows. Make it as uncomfortable as possible for him. Make him sit between your sleep deprived 5 and 7 year olds on a Monday morning on the way to school.

He has to come along, but we don’t have to make it easy for him.

Shove him in the back and then get on your way. Get on the road and drive towards that place where you want to be.

The Highlands

About 16 years ago, I arrived in Scotland for the first time and my friends and I decided to go on a road trip up into the Highlands. We rented a tiny Volkswagen Polo and bought a map. This was the good old days before GPS and instant navigation.

We drove through incredible landscapes and made random stops to sit beside rivers and run up hills. We brought along mix tapes and blasted our favourite songs out the windows, driving along as the only car on those winding mountain roads.

We arrived at our hostel late at night, tired, but still buzzing from the amazing drive. After unpacking our meagre belongings, we went down to sit in the hostel living room where they had a roaring fire and comfy couches. I took out a printed copy of a short story I had recently finished and I handed it to my friend.

“This is just a little story I’m working on if you want to read it?” I said.

We sat in the quiet glow of the fire and my friend read my story. Funny enough, I don’t remember what he said about it afterwards.

What I do remember is handing it to him. I remember sharing my writing with him and my friend didn’t doubt it or question it. He simply read my story.

In that moment, I was a writer.

Driving Back Home

I want to get back to that feeling. I want to be back in that moment, where I write and share my work without too much fuss, doubt or explanation.

To simply be a writer.

To make Jack proud. To be his scientist.