It Matters Where You Go
By Joe Marini, Ph.D.
“Peggy came to me in my sleep,In the middle of the night,On a Friday night last week.She whispered ‘hush child, now don't be scared,I got me a few words of wisdom that I came back to share.’And she said:‘It doesn't matter where you come from,It matters where you go.No one gets rememberedFor the things they didn't do.’"1Music is a big part of my life. Although I can’t play an instrument, and I can’t sing (well, not in tune anyway), I get great enjoyment out of going to concerts to listen to those artists who can play and sing. Within some of my favorite songs, I often discover gems of wisdom from which I draw inspiration and that lead me toward a better life.As Frank Turner sings in “Peggy Sang the Blues,” a tribute to his late grandmother, “It doesn’t matter where you come from. It matters where you go.” Peggy (i.e., Frank) is reminding me that life is what you make of yourself. Your background or an incident in your past doesn’t necessarily define your future. What matters is now.
We’ve all had people tell us we didn’t have the right background, we weren’t good or smart enough, or that we were too young or too old. I was born in what is now the crime capital of America; my parents divorced; an undergraduate career counselor at the University of Pennsylvania told me that I wasn’t cut out for an advanced degree; and a trainer in my CrossFit class told me I was too old to do 24-inch box jumps. These people or situations might have derailed me from who I am and who I still want to become. However, I didn’t let them define my future. I made the commitment to leave these circumstances behind and used them as motivation to drive myself forward. I set goals for my future, and I imagined how it would feel once I got there.
However, I wasn’t able to get to where I am now without strong support from others. We’ve all had someone in our life who has helped to shape us as an individual and guide us where we want to go. I’m reminded of Allen Epstein, Ph.D., who gave me, a university freshman, my first science job of cleaning rat cages five times a week. Dr. Epstein must have seen something in me—a small spark of curiosity, a willingness to learn from the ground up. He mentored me through my undergraduate science career and allowed me to do independent study leading to my first scientific publication. There was Robert Korngold, Ph.D., an immunologist at Thomas Jefferson University, who took me into his lab as a Ph.D. student and mentored me for five years. Bob was tough on me, but I knew that he was teaching me to be the best scientist I could be. I also owe a debt of gratitude to Chuck Pendley, Ph.D., a scientist at what was then known as Centocor, Inc. Chuck was instrumental in hiring me and teaching me everything about bioanalytical method development, validation, and bioanalysis, and about managing people. He corrected me when I was wrong and praised me when I was successful. Most important, he allowed me to grow to where I wanted to be as a scientist. Chuck also encouraged me to get involved in AAPS.
PASSING ON THE SPARK
Because I was lucky to have great mentors in my life, I feel a strong need to pay it forward by mentoring the next generation of scientists. It’s important that I make myself available to junior staff, interns, or those I come across through my work in the AAPS community. I am happy to share my experiences and my knowledge with others. More important though, I’m happy to motivate these young scientists and to remind them, "It doesn't matter where you come from, it matters where you go.”
The next line of the song that Frank sings is, “No one gets remembered for the things they didn't do.” To me, that’s a call to action. These words have motivated me at times to jump off the cliff and build my wings on the way down. I’m not afraid to take risks, and I’m not afraid to make mistakes (as long as I learn from them, of course).
I’m not saying the answer to your difficult decision can necessarily be found in a song lyric. But I think you can find wisdom everywhere—in music, in literature, on TV, and even unlikely places like the batting cage. Someone close to me imagines himself as Ted Williams, one of the most successful baseball players in history. Obviously, he grew up liking the Boston Red Sox…uggh. When he needs to motivate himself, he visualizes standing at the plate and says to himself, “I am the greatest hitter in all of baseball! I believe in myself.” Another person I know assumes the Wonder Woman power pose (hands on hips, feet wide apart, shoulders back, staring confidently forward) for two minutes to motivate herself before stressful meetings and interviews. (If you haven’t seen the TED talk by sociologist Amy Cuddy about the psychology of this confident posture, you really should look it up.)
Personally, I use self-talk to cast aside my doubts and concentrate on the voice inside my head that says, “I can do it!” Whatever works for you, whatever motivates you—use it, own it, become it—to show others who you are. Confidence, assertiveness, passion, optimism, being able to think more abstractly, and taking risks are all qualities that we want to show off and what employers, bosses, or “people in power” want to see from us. These qualities often get us farther than any other set of skills.
No matter where you are in your career, be it at the beginning, at the top, or toward the end, I’ll bet you're in need of a bit of motivation to be remembered for what you truly want to do—to apply for that job you'll actually love to do, to seek out that promotion, to transfer to a new job or company, or to happily make the leap into retirement Find what resonates with you, believe in it, and you will become it. And next time we meet, ask me to demonstrate my very impressive box jump. Or better yet, meet me at a Frank Turner concert, and let’s sing “Peggy Sang the Blues” loudly together!
- “Peggy Sang the Blues,” by Francis Edward Turner.
Joseph Marini, Ph.D., is a scientific director at Janssen Research & Development, LLC, and a steering committee member of the AAPS Ligand Binding Assay Bioanalytical focus group.