On Transformation

Beautiful are those whose brokenness gives birth to transformation and wisdom.

John Mark Green

In research as in life, there are always times when you get so far into the weeds and you are at an impasse. You’re not sure where to go, and it seems that you have exhausted all possibilities. To the right is a group of poisonous snakes (why did it have to be snakes?), to the left a small stream filled with piranhas. Go back, and you face a tribe of aborigines that want your head for their latest ritual. Go forward and there is a chasm that looks too large to safely jump and not fall to death below. Clearly you can’t stay where you are because you haven’t reached your destination. But clearly none of the choices before you are desirable. What to do, what to do…..

Just like one of the greatest movies of all time that is now the discussion of controversy (Remake a classic? Who messes with perfection? I mean, there are shortages…), there’s always a solution, but it may not be immediately clear. Sometimes, it takes out of the box thinking on the fly, or years of building tolerance to a poison so if that snake bites you, you won’t die. But those rely on preparation and quick wit, and in the case of poison, cleverly stacking the battle in your favor (I mean, what if it’s a rattlesnake and not the asp you’ve been priming your immune system all these years?). What if your wit is a bit dull, or you are facing a situation you never anticipated in your life? Well, that’s where things get a bit tricky.

Many times in life, our experiences lend us confidence and faith in our abilities to tackle life’s challenges. Repetitive training, teachers and mentors, coffee, turning around three times and hopping on your left leg for 30 seconds while singing “kumbaya”–whatever gives you the skills or the notion you can do this. But what about when we go out of our comfort zone? To paraphrase, to go where no man or woman has before. More importantly, where YOU have not gone before?

Transformation has many different flavors of meaning, but the one I think of the most is “a radical change in form, appearance, or character.” Many times, in the lab, in relationships, in life, we find that things are just not working. You look in the mirror and that person that stares back at you is double the size you were in high school, you repeat a variation on the theme of an experiment and still get negative or stochastic results, you quit drinking coffee and get adequate sleep (wait, what?) but still have no energy or motivation, or whatever issue you are facing that seems to have no clear solution. You may say “I’m going to do it this way,” your friends may say “You should do it my way,” the fake news media may say “Who cares, the economy is great!,” but you’re just spinning your wheels and nothing is moving forward, nothing is changing. That is when I have found myself having to transform, my thoughts, my beliefs, the very foundation of all my assumptions about a situation, and turn things inside out, upside down, even tear it all apart, to figure out a solution. This can be so profound, that all that was before is now gone. It can take courage, fortitude, grit, and persistence, but left in its place, the solution, that which you were seeking, the holy grail, makes the transformation worth it. Each time I have transformed, I find that what I have done, what I have become, aligns me closer to my authentic self, to doing what I know I am meant to do with my time on this earth.

Today, instead of giving you my experience, I want to ask you, what is yours? How did you transform? And has it brought you closer to your meaning? If not, why?

But my solution to the problem above? Why fly, my darling. Or wake up to realize it was all a terrible gin-induced nightmare. Sounds silly to you? It doesn’t matter. Because this is my story, and knowing that is the beginning of all transformation.

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