And if I ever doubted that, I was reminded by a recent article in The Economist about the remarkable Dr. Angela Belcher of MIT, who makes super useful things out of viruses. Things like environmentally friendly batteries (with which she hopes one day to power electric cars), and turning methane into gasoline. Dr. Belcher has made mind-boggling discoveries, co-founded two companies to help get her stuff out into the world where it can make a difference, has personally demo’d her work to Barack Obama, and manages to be a part of not one but two of MIT’s faculties. She started off with a BA in creative studies, which has clearly been a boon to her thinking outside the box.
This is all striking enough in itself, but the thing I found really surprising in the article was this bit regarding how she felt about extending her MIT involvement into yet another faculty, The Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research:
“She was nervous about this. ‘Working on cancer is so important. I didn’t want to take up space and not contribute and make a difference.’ But she attended tutorials and became more confident by considering cancer as yet another material to work with. Although it is early days, the work looks promising.” (From The Economist Technology Quarterly, March 8, 2014)
She was nervous. Isn’t that comforting? Even really remarkable people have this issue.
And how did she move past that obstacle? By using a technique many of the contributors to The Practical Woman’s Guide have also talked about: She applied herself to learning what she needed, using what she already knew to inform what she didn’t yet know, which gave her the confidence to proceed.
Making our dreams happen often involves venturing into unknown territory. Personally, I hate feeling incompetent. But armed with this tool it’s possible to feel a little less incompetent; just enough to keep going through the muck and doubt until, voila, you discover you actually have something to contribute.
If you’d like to read the whole article about Dr. Belcher you can find it here: