“I’m afraid that everything I’ve done in the past two years will go unacknowledged.”

Today, my friend turned to say these words to me. I recognized the tired sadness in his voice, because I heard it not too long ago, from myself. And the funny thing is, on that particular day as I was moping outside the door to my lab, my friend was there to share my sorrows as well. Today, I get to return the favor.

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D-, it’s sobering to hear your disillusionment. Because you’ve always cheered me on when I’ve expressed my doubts with science. Your optimism was refreshing, especially when so many of our peers, including myself, have long since lost that optimism. But I guess, nobody is immune to fears.

This is the problem with doing something that you love. You start to be afraid. Afraid of falling short. Afraid to be disappointed, in others and in yourself. Afraid that after pouring out heart and soul, you wake to find that none of it mattered.

And some of these fears, you know they’re irrational. But fears don’t have to be rational to be real. Fears don’t need to make sense to be felt. They exist not because we don’t have the fortitude to beat them down. Sometimes fears are borne precisely because we care so much about this thing that we love. And maybe that’s good, because if we were indifferent, we wouldn’t have these fears at all.

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Why should it be so damn hard to do the thing you love to do? There are always unexpected complications, technical challenges, interpersonal conflicts, experimental setbacks–and as if that weren’t enough–our own insecurities. It’s so easy to lose ourselves in the frustrations and complaints we have against everything and everyone.

I’ve realized though, the things we hate about our work–the imperfections and road blocks that we like to blame for our misery–these are also the things that drew us here in the first place. I chose my lab because the people there are passionate about what they do; even if it means that strong opinions lead to conflict. You chose your project because it’s never been done before; even if it means there’s a good chance you might fail. We chose science because it is challenging; even if it brings out everything we fear about ourselves.

Everyone. Including those who seem to stand obnoxiously in our way of doing the thing we love to do, are simply trying to do the thing that they love to do. Affirmation, we all seek it. But there’s a difference between finding affirmation by what you do, and finding affirmation in what you do.

If I defined myself by what I have done, what impact I will leave in this field, what lasting contribution will I make in this career, how paralyzing would that be? You decide whether you love something because it elevates you, or whether you love something because it’s above you.

I’m going to switch gears right now and speak about God. Because everything I have just written, I learned from my faith.

I may not call myself Christian anymore, but this quote still speaks to me:

“If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”
– 1 Corinthians 15:19

If I believe in You, then the greatest fear I have is to find out–after running madly and desperately after You–that You don’t exist.

I can let that fear stop me from running. Maybe I can prevent all this wasted energy and fruitless effort. But I choose to believe that if You are real, then You are larger than my fears.

So I’m still running. Madly, desperately, running with You.

Red Velvet Cheesecake from 17 and Baking