Do you ever feel like you need permission?
Get rid of your mental obstacles and go for it
When you were a kid, were you the good kid that always asked for permission to do things? This is what we are taught. In a class, if you need to go to the restroom, you raise your hand, and the teacher decides whether you can go. You are rewarded for this behavior. This is great to keep things under control. The problem comes when you subconsciously get stuck with that behavior for the rest of your life. To me, this came in the shape of: “oh, it would be great if someone would…” And then I would proceed to say something that I am perfectly capable of doing, but because it hasn’t been done yet, I don’t even consider that I could be the one doing it. I was mentally raising my hand, but nobody around me was there to give me permission.
In a recent Facebook post, I mentioned I had just created a lab. A colleague, who’s a brilliant researcher a few years ahead of me in the academia game, mentioned she was jealous of me having a lab. I haven’t talked to her about why she doesn’t have one, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was because of that feeling of needing to ask for permission. If you are now thinking that I have an illegal secret lab, don’t worry, I did talk to my department’s chair about it. At first, he was suspicious of me asking for space (you know, we’re in NYC, space is not in abundance), but after I told him I wasn’t going to ask for anything from him, he was happy as a clam: “yes, go ahead, sounds great”. I am in a modern language department and I am the only experimental researcher. Labs are not a tradition here and nobody had a lab before. But I had worked with undergraduate students while doing my Ph.D. and I liked the idea of working with a group of motivated students. We should be more comfortable with the idea of doing things differently.
I started this blog by telling you why you should practice asking for more. I feel both ideas are linked. It all boils down to making your needs met and your voice heard. When you ask for more, you want to optimize your conditions (to work better, to enjoy your dinner by being in a better location, etc.). And when you decide to go ahead with an innovative project, you’re setting yourself apart and leading towards change. And change is indispensable for improvement.
You might be wondering (I certainly was), how did Cristina get to this idea? Multiple factors have brought me here. First, going to therapy for a couple of years made me realize that not getting my needs met and feeling that I needed permission was a pattern for me (and I suspect many fellow females are on the same boat). This is like AA, you need to recognize your problem first. Second, seeing other people doing things they were not great at, but enjoying the process anyway. Some of the YouTubers I started following would be proud of their improvement in their new hobby and it got me thinking: “wait a minute, I used to be better than that, and I stopped because I thought I wasn’t good enough” (remember perfectionism?). And third, seeing how one of my friends doesn’t get stopped by mental obstacles. If he gets an idea of something cool, he finds a way of getting it. Importantly, he dreams big. He thought of celebrating his girlfriend’s 30th birthday on a boat in the Virgin Islands and…we found a way of doing it (all within a grad student budget).
What do I mean by mental obstacles? It’s the believes you hold onto that stop you from doing what you really want. I’ll give you an example. When I was 18, I got introduced to sailing. I worked as an au-pair in Ireland for a family that had a sailing boat. Part of my job was taking care of the kids while the family was on vacation in the boat. I thought I would be scared of sailing, but, to my surprise, I loved it. When I came back home, my environment repeated the idea that “sailing was for rich people”. I wasn’t rich, so it wasn’t for me. This was the mental obstacle that was stopping me from doing something I fell in love with. Long story short, thanks to my friend, I went on a few sailing trips and… I was able to see the mental obstacle. None of us were close to rich and we were doing it anyway. I did some research and, a month ago, I joined a sailing club. I already have the basic keelboat certification and love seeing NYC’s skyline from the Hudson river every week ⛵
Now, think about all the things, work or personal, that you find yourself saying: “it would be cool if…” Why aren’t you doing them? What if you just focus on figuring out how to do them? Make sure you tell me so I get more ideas! 😉