Dropping the Bomb

6 Jun

I got invited to attend a New Investigators in Alzheimer’s Disease Grantee Meeting in Santa Barbara. No, I’m not a Grantee. Nor am I an Alzheimer’s Investigator. I just know the guy who gives the grants and hosts the annual Grantees’ retreat at the Four Seasons. He thought it would be good/useful/interesting for a neuro-newbie nerd to be exposed to a bevy of brilliant brainiacs.

I agreed and here’s what I learned:

[WARNING: The next 2 paragraphs are science-dense! Feel free to skip them; reader-friendly fluff resumes after the “Phrew!“]

The ß-amyloid blockers that everyone raved about at the beginning of the 21st Century are essentially useless. Although ß-amyloid is a key predicate/progressive component of Alzheimer’s, it’s a “middle-of-the-chain” protein. Mucking around with the middle doesn’t do much, so today’s scientists are more closely examining the front end. Some camps believe that microglia invoke the “beginning.” Others favor the cyclophilins. Both agree that appropriate regulation of precursor entities could prevent Alzheimer’s in the first place. One presenter predicted that we’d have a preventative medicine in place by 2020.

“Curing” Alzheimer’s after it’s begun, however, is an altogether different, and more difficult, proposition. Tauopathy is a rather pernicious accumulation and the folks in the room weren’t at all optimistic about being able to detangle or deactivate that web anytime soon.

Phrew! Science jargon.

And that’s the distilled version! I could continue, but you get the gist. Of course, there was even more stuff that I didn’t learn because it was over my head, but I’m getting there and that’s half of the fun.

The other half of the fun is realizing that although these Grantees are wicked smart scientists, they’re just as clueless as the rest of us when it comes to their own lives.

The day concluded with Consultantcies — “a problem-solving activity structured to enable a group of people with a variety of knowledge and expertise to provide support, new perspective, and ideas to one another, particularly around an important or difficult challenge.

My group consisted of 9 Grantees and 4 outsiders (including me and my friend — both lawyers by trade). Although one Grantee expressed concerns about collaborative research methodologies, the rest kvetched about two age-old, universal problems: (1) Time management (i.e., how to balance research/clinical activities, or teaching/admin, or work/family) and (2) How to attain/define success.

For the collaborative research question, the Grantees just stared at each other — dumfounded about how to approach it. So, I chimed in with “I’m not a scientist, but here’s what worked for me when I ran a collaborative effort to serve Holocaust survivors…” And out came my well-worn stump speech, finely honed at many a pro bono conference over the past 5 years:

  • Front-end brutal honesty regarding resources, responsibilities, and roles
  • Frequent, but brief communications
  • Clear timelines and deliverables
  • Call people out (privately) on their shit
  • Share successes broadly
  • Disseminate (and enforce!) updated protocols as needed
  • Have an easily accessible, user-friendly, robust data-sharing center

It’s not brain science, it’s common sense!

Apparently this group of brain scientists lacked an abundance of common sense (kinda like most lawyers). The “Frequent, but brief communications” piece revealed itself to be particularly revolutionary: Brevity is not science’s forte and frequent interpersonal interaction is even rarer — the same ills that lawyers suffer!

This was FANTASTIC news! My law school grades were not stellar, but I managed to achieve a modest amount of success in the legal profession thanks to having (I think) an above-average level of common sense.

Could I, perhaps, follow the same book-dumb/life-smart path to success in this new field?

Regarding the topics of success and time management, I just let those conversations play out, concentrating on not letting my jaw drop (or start flapping) as they spun their tales of imagined woe (I mean, really, you’re speaking into your lap in a monotone mouse voice and yet you wonder why you have trouble fulfilling the “invited speaker” aspect of your tenure package?!? Fainting goats have more self confidence, not to mention more charisma, than you!…), but then the moderator turned and said: “Ms. Zeisler, could you help us tie-up this session with some concluding remarks?

Holy hot flashes and panic prickles, Batman! I took a deep breath and said something like this:

What I heard from most of you is that you feel like you don’t have enough time in the day to do everything that you want to do. And that’s right. You don’t. You won’t and you can’t do everything you want to do.

You’ve got a problem, for sure, but it’s an imaginary problem. The real problem is that you’re not addressing the right problem.

What I learned after I almost died [during my friend’s Keynote address he unexpectedly –and to my great chagrin– asked me to share my “near death / recovery / re-imagined life” tale, so the Grantees had some context for this statement] is that trying to do everything that you want to do is not only impossible, it’s utterly meaningless.

What’s important is doing what you HAVE to do and what you LOVE to do. Just make time for those and you’ll be richer, happier, and more successful — guaranteed.

For me: I HAVE to sleep; so that’s always my #1 priority and I LOVE to ride my bike and learn, so those come next. They get put on my calendar in permanent ink. I don’t mess with them. They’re set in stone. They don’t take up all of my time; other things can be scheduled around them, but I’m very clear with myself that they must always come first.

When other things come up I ask myself: (1) Do I HAVE to do it (really, really HAVE to — as in, could I become gravely ill or financially ruined if I don’t do it)? (2) Do I LOVE it? (3) With what’s already on my plate do I clearly have time to do it?

Very often the answer to #3 is “No.” So I say “No” a lot. I always explain why I’m saying No and, if I can, I offer a revised option — sometimes that means suggesting someone else to take my spot. I’ve never had anyone react negatively to this; people seem to appreciate my honesty.

I try to stay informed about the project/event and when it turns out well, I offer effusive praise to everyone involved. Demonstrating my ongoing interest keeps me in the loop for future opportunities. Saying “No” now frequently leads to an even better “Yes” in the future.

Let me sound-bite it for you:

Unless you clearly have the time: If you don’t HAVE to do it or you don’t LOVE to do it, then FUCKIT, don’t do it!

Yes, I actually F-bombed …

in a room full of new-to-me neuroscientists.

 And here the red-faced moderator chimed in: “And on that note, let’s move on to the reception.”

I didn’t attend the reception because I had to get back to L.A. for Biology class that night (priorities!), but I’ve since received 3 LinkedIn requests from people in that Consultantcies session — not bad for a girl with no business cards!

Parting Thought: Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy. ~Dale Carnegie

3 Responses to “Dropping the Bomb”

  1. katerinadiaviano June 6, 2013 at 8:56 am #

    Thanks for another inspiring tale and some very appropriate words of wisdom.
    Kathy Fisher

    • justadventures June 6, 2013 at 9:11 am #

      Free life tip: My F-bombs almost always presage wisdom!


  1. A Little Housekeeping & then vacation! | JustAdventures - June 20, 2013

    […] viewed were the About page along with “Gift of my Father’s Suicide” and “Dropping the Bomb.” That’s a bit spooky, […]

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