Hi there, kid.
It’s me—your future self. It’s been 15 years. You’re not too far into high school, trying to find your way in that tiny little world, already thinking ahead to what college and the years after are going to bring.
You have no inkling of how much your vision is going to change.
It’s not a bad life you’ve built. Despite the jokes you’re making about my old age, I’m not that old. Yet I’ve learned some things about changing plans, living life, and so much more. I don’t have enough time to share them all (and that would hardly be fair), so let me just warn you about a dangerous enemy.
You are your own worst enemy and critic. You don’t have very much faith in yourself. In several years, you’re going to hear this term, imposter syndrome, and boy, do you ever have it. Basically it means that you think you don’t deserve to be where you are, that you didn’t earn the praise or position.
You’re bright and, though you’d never admit it, incredibly ambitious. The thing is, deep down, you don’t really believe it. You excel in your classes. You have a small core of wonderfully geeky friends who respect and understand you. You have teachers who see your talent, praise it, and try to cultivate it.
But you shrug it off. You bashfully bow your head. You won’t contradict them, but inside that all too analytical brain of yours, you’re thinking, I’m not that smart. I’m not that creative. I’ll be lucky to make it to med school.* You take little slips and tiny failures as validation of the limitations of your intellect and creativity.
I know it seems like I’m being hard on you, but that’s all so the advice I’m about to give you will make more sense: Believe in yourself. It’s OK to be clever, and yes, you can acknowledge that fact internally without the world imploding. Embrace what makes you who you are. Be confident.
As it turns out, you’ll be lucky not to make it to med school because you’ll have discovered a hidden passion, seeded by Mr. W and supported by some really incredible professors. In about five years or so, you’re going to start down a path you never imagined. It is going to be wonderful and terrifying at the same time. It will take time and commitment, but that won’t be a problem because you’ll have found your fire. But you will still carry that feeling of never being good enough. If you’re not careful, it will hold you captive, keeping you from being everything you could be.
As amazing as your newfound love is, it is intense and competitive. You can hold your own, but if you want peers and superiors to believe you, you have to sound like you believe it. There will be people who will encourage you when they sense that lack of confidence. Others will push you—one in particular because he knows what you’re capable of and what you’re going to need to survive in this career. One day, you’ll thank him for that. On a very rare occasion, someone will try to exploit that weakness to make you feel inferior. It’s that rare occasion when you need to have faith, more than ever, in who and what you are.
It’s not going to be an easy process. You start by working hard and soaking up as much as you can—which you’re pretty good at already. Next, you learn to project confidence, and at some point, you will start to feel it. It will take time. I’m still working on it to this day.
You’ll be striving to be a strong, confident, independent woman and scientist, but don’t think you have to do it alone. You’re going to meet an incredible partner, some fantastic mentors, and great friends and colleagues who will help you—and you should definitely let them.
Just remember: Believe in me, believe in you.
All my best,
Belle, Ph.D. (and loving it)
Biochembelle is a research fellow in basic biomedical sciences, following her scientific love of proteins and chemistry. When she’s not being a science geek, she subjects her husband to sci-fi shows and writes about life in science at There and (hopefully) back again.