Letter to Evelyn: Creating Your Own Path

Rick and Evelyn holding handles while walking up a trail on Mount Sanitas.

Evelyn. You're not even two and a half years old, and I'm already facing a daily dilemma. Should I hold your hand and show you the world? Should I come running every time you call for help? Should I let go and allow you the space to figure things out on your own? Yes, you are so very young and the scales currently tip towards constant intervention. However, you are such a strong force that I know it's just a matter of time before it'll stifle more than support your growth. And as much as I want to protect you and do everything in my power to give you a good life, it is you that must create your path.

A Thought or a Thesis?

A question regarding the last thing you wrote. Were you merely sharing a thought? Or were you defending a thesis? The answer to this question has a major impact on my writing style for each extreme. Thoughts are the seeds best cast into Twitter, where the constraints of 140 characters provide a perfectly sized container for an idea that is attempting to take root.

Goal Groundhog Day

Groundhog day meme.

"Well, it's Groundhog Day... again?" I love this scene because Bill Murray's character is stating something that is both matter-of-fact and yet deeply puzzling at the same time. Why exactly is he reliving the exact same day over? Is everyone in on some elaborate prank? Is he dreaming?

My 9-Day Coffee Fast

In the months leading up to the birth of my daughter, I vividly remember many well-meaning people telling me to sleep while I still had the chance. As someone that made it through MIT without ever needing coffee and without pulling an all-nighter for academic reasons, I scoffed at the idea that parenthood would affect me in any significant way in that department.

Boy, was I wrong.

The Asymmetric Nature of Inflicting Pain

"How could they do this to me?"

While I may not know you personally, I'm willing to bet that you've asked this question more than once in your lifetime. Worse yet, some of these experiences occurred with people you knew, loved, and trusted. This makes these situations all the more painful because there is an expectation that they wouldn't (or shouldn't) knowingly caused us harm. And in the midst of all the pain, we are left to wonder why it happened.

Making the Unfamiliar Familiar

With less five minutes before my presentation, I found myself making my 4th trip to the bathroom stall where I sat down to try and get my breathing and heart rate under control. A team of executives and principle investigators from DuPont flew a private jet up to Boston the annual review of all research performed and funded under the DMA (Dupont-MIT Alliance). I was barely into my second year of research and, despite making significant progress in the sophistication of my experiments, I was terrified that I was going to get bombarded in the Q&A period.

Say What You'll Do; Do What You Say

One of the most powerful ways to build trust is the simple-but-not-easy process of making and keeping commitments. It's simple because it only takes two steps: you make a commitment and then you make it happen. It's difficult because it's incredibly easy to overcommit one's capacity, overestimate one's skillset, and overstate one's desire to see it through to completion. In fact, the asymmetric nature of the two steps almost makes it inevitable that some agreements will be broken or renegotiated to something more realistic.

The Components of Trust

Do people trust you? It's a serious question because it greatly impacts how effective you'll be in those relationships. In high trust situations, decisions can be made quickly, there is no need to second guess a person's intentions or abilities, and the occasional miscommunication can be dealt with in a straightforward manner. Contrast that with low trust situations where decisions need to be discussed in great detail or even require lawyers to get involved.