Nothing is ever good enough

There are only a couple of options that I have considered suitable for myself to spend my time doing to make a living. The first one being running my own business, the second being writing. However, thus far I have mostly stuck with the third option, the one of becoming a scientist.

Since I was a young kid, I have been dreaming of starting my own business. In fact, in my early snake-charming days I bred a lot of snakes each year, which I always sold to the local reptile store, and later, on reptile events. Even though it brought in quite some money for my standard of living at the time, 90 percent of the income would end up being invested in food for the animals themselves. Although it sometimes felt almost business-like, it certainly was a poor business model. But anyway, it was good to have a self-sustaining hobby, as I was not exactly swimming in money. However, in my late teenage years, I would have certainly hoped to make a living out of my obsession with reptiles and amphibians. I just never figured out how. Later on, during my time at university, I have played with several other, more substantial business ideas, one of which had received serious backing by investors. There were some issues with local authorities that led to significant delays and that I was not sure we could resolve. After crunching our numbers for the gazillionth time, I decided to give up. It was not financially attractive anyway, so maybe the plans were not that good after all. That’s how my entrepeneurial adventures always end.

“Robin, this business idea is horrible and will not make you any money”

The second alternative was becoming a writer. Well. You don’t have to look far to read about how horrible it is to become established as a writer. The chances of getting published are, quite literally, zero. That is, especially when you start from scratch, with little to no experience other than writing facebook posts or travel blogs. How will you manage to write a book, have it published, sell enough copies to make a living and be happy about the process? I think that will be very difficult. Nevertheless, writing a book has been a life-long dream of mine. I have since written a PhD dissertation with a proper ISBN and 100 printed copies. (About half of them are still in a box on my own book shelf in the office) I have seen that my writing is not high on people’s reading list, although I feel quite proud to have had one request to send a dissertation copy to a PI in New Zealand. My PhD thesis… I couldn’t get rid of them, even though I was giving them away for free! I realize that a dissertation may be a bit too specific, not exactly comfort reading material to enjoy with a glass of wine. Writing a real book would be cool, and still is a real idea that pops up very regularly. Maybe a second book would do better? I have had plenty of book ideas in the past. Some of them die a quick and sudden death because they’re just bad. Others are good ideas but may not be ripe to be shared with the world. Some ideas would be worth writing down, but I would not be comfortable writing them, at least not under my own name. Whatever idea pops up in my head, however, is quickly followed by a second thought.

“Robin, no one will ever read your books”

Having opted for the third alternative, becoming a scientist, I have been lucky enough to get paid for studying things that I love. Although I regularly feel that nothing I study is interesting for anyone else, or that my teaching is not very good, at least I still get paid. I don’t have to worry about that part. For now. I now have to start thinking about ‘landing’ my own grants. In fact, I’m working on a grant proposal right now. I think I have a very solid idea for a grant proposal, and will spend the next two months or so in streamlining the proposal. However interesting I find the subject to satisfy my own scientific curiosity, there is still a recurring thought that haunts me.

“Robin, no one cares one bit about your idea”

So it turns out that, whichever option I choose, my mind will tell me the same thing. Nothing is ever good enough. In science, I have come to accept and ignore it to some extent, and I continue doing ‘my things’ because I love the grind of identifying hypotheses or questions, and thinking out means of testing or answering them. There is something about running the first analyses on newly collected data that is hard to beat. But this begs the question; was my mind truly correct about options one and two? If loving the grind can make me somewhat succesful in science, could this also be the case for starting a business, or writing a book? Both of them are on my bucket list, so I guess I should find out ways to test when an idea, business, book or experiment, is good enough.

“Robin, nothing is ever good enough”

Published by Robin Heinen

Father of two | Husband | Entomologist and Ecologist | Postdoctoral Researcher @ TUM | Traveler | Coffee Addict

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