Change & Inspiration

This past week I found myself settling back into my daily grind after having visited my friends and family in the lovely, serene area of rural Southwest Michigan. I’ve been living in Cambridge, MA for three years now, and returning from my Michigan trip this time really had me feeling like I was coming home. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll always consider SW MI to be my home and I always feel some sadness (and maybe guilt as I touched on last week), when I leave MI. However, it was incredible to feel that sense of belonging and comfort in the city life that I made for myself and to think of it as home, too.

Change is inevitable in life. Growing up amongst corn fields and dirt roads to living as a young adult in an urban area walking 10k+ steps daily and eating kale & quinoa veggie bowls for lunch. Wow. Life can become the unexpected! Visiting friends and family this year made it apparent how we all walk our divergent paths, but can all come together to share our lives and stories. The love never goes away. I think this is important to recognize for first generation college students who go on to pursue higher education. First gens may feel disconnected from everyone around them… from family members and childhood friends who haven’t chosen similar paths to colleagues in their field, in part, due to imposter syndrome. As a first generation college student, I have certainly experienced this feeling of disconnect for the longest time. For me, I think my enlightenment and acceptance of the differences between me and others (particularly my family and friends) was brought about by my practice of mindfulness meditation. I’m constantly in awe over the ways mindfulness has permeated my life and brought fresh energy & perspective with it.

My trip home not only gave me clarity on the changes that my life has taken, but provided a healthy dose of inspiration- one I hadn’t realized I was in the need for at the time. I always visit my middle school science teacher when I’m in my home area. She was my first cheerleader to encourage me to go into science, and she was there to guide me with the necessary advice about undergraduate majors & doing research throughout college. I was beyond ecstatic to show her my first, first authored publication (for which I’d received the final print notification that week)! Her delight and encouragement reminds me that I can do it (even though it’s really, really freaking hard sometimes).

The Hays 2018
My middle school inspiration (left)

Fate smiled upon me on my travels back to Boston, and I crossed paths with my undergraduate research mentor at the airport! Seeing her filled me with a sense of purpose and confidence, memory that she taught me how to conduct basic chemistry research and she nurtured my passion for science and research when it was most important. Those two women will forever be my inspiration to carry on in graduate school when the times get tough. May you all remember your own inspirations and call on them in moments when you need it the most.

Dr. Lee 2018
College inspiration ❤

Finding clarity

Last week, I had an enlightening conversation with one of my colleagues (who happens to also be a dear friend) and she mentioned that she finally felt she discovered her passion in life. Her inspirational words rang deep within me. In that moment I remembered that I, too, have a passion and sense of belonging in this world only I had allowed my fear and worries to diminish my spirit. From a very young age, I was always fascinated with science and I had a certain naiveté in life that allowed me to be incredibly optimistic. I appreciated the challenges and difficulties I faced when I was learning natural sciences. Furthermore, I was given an experience with cancer that ignited my passion and bolstered my motivation to choose a path in science despite being faced with the challenges of being a first-generation college student.

Education is certainly a privilege. My passion in life has always involved science and my wish from a very young age was to be involved in somehow making cancer therapeutics better. Without my education, I would not be able to pursue my passion in life. Upon entering college, I was fortunate enough to continue having brilliant and supportive science teachers and discover what’s really going on in the life of a scientist (or researcher). During college I learned what a PhD was and how one could be paid (at least in STEM fields) a livable wage to obtain this high degree. I remember thinking, “wow, if I study hard and work hard enough, this is definitely possible!” I was flabbergasted by the idea that I could be paid to obtain a degree and specialized training to do what I was most passionate about in life.

I think I was prepared, at least in some ways, for the difficulties of graduate school. What I wasn’t prepared for, was the realization that these difficulties that I face during graduate school would make me doubt my passion in life. During grad school, particularly in my third year, I internalized the challenges I faced in research and began to question if I really had what it took to “succeed” in doing what I thought my greatest passion was. Mindfulness meditation has woken up my inner spirit from its slumber where it had been resting after being burdened by increasing self-doubt. In my experience, mindfulness meditation has not only lifted the veil from my eyes, but has also begun to strengthen my mind. Altogether, my practice of mindfulness has provided me with clarity once more and self-confidence to believe in myself and continue doing what I love.

“Let the beauty of what you love be what you do.” – Rumi