Go before you’re ready

Go before you’re ready

Go before you’re ready

Trusting yourself in a time-limited world

June 26, 2024 | Aarshi J.


I like being prepared. It gives me a sense of control which is my shield against anxiety. The first time I visited New York, I read a guide on using the subway system. Before attending a beginner bachata workshop, I watched a tutorial. I believed that with research and practice, I could conquer any challenge. As my senior year approached and the graduate school application process loomed, I felt confident in my strategy—work hard, prepare well, and success would follow. 

Reality hit hard as I found myself juggling multiple majors, research responsibilities, graduate applications, and scientific diving training. Despite my meticulous preparation, the delicate balance between academics, social life, and career planning became an exhausting tightrope walk. I faced the discomfort of having to prioritize and relinquish some control. It was a paradigm shift, and for the first time, I walked into an exam hall completely unprepared.

The pinnacle of this revelation came during my MIT microbiology interviews, a trial by fire. Exhausted both physically and mentally from a demanding lab practical and a cross-country flight for a graduate school visit, I had less than two days to familiarize myself with my interviewers. The conventional path of meticulous preparation was no longer viable—I was forced to wing it.

I did not know all the answers during my interviews and decided to focus on being authentic and curious instead of dwelling on my knowledge gaps. Post-interview, I embraced vulnerability in thank-you emails, attempting to convert weaker points into opportunities for growth. I candidly acknowledged areas where I may have faltered, expressing gratitude for the opportunity to learn. It was a humbling yet empowering experience that set me up with an attitude that would serve me well in graduate school.

Having successfully made it to MIT, I became acutely aware of the scarcity of time. I felt perpetually behind as I juggled various commitments and every week, I would resolve to do better. To take a closer look at the paper for journal club, dissecting even the supplement. To be better prepared for an experimental procedure, and plan it out in more detail. To be a better presenter, making my presentation earlier and practicing it more often. Some of it could be attributed to imperfect time management and procrastination. However, the bottom line was that there was seldom enough time to be as prepared as I wanted without sacrificing my personal life or mental health.

Somewhere along the way, I realized that I had to embrace my discomfort. Despite my best efforts, moments would arise when readiness eluded me. In these instances, I chose to normalize the uncomfortable feeling and proceed anyway. I learned to trust myself to go before I was ready. Recently, I found myself unprepared for a paper discussion with my rotation mentor. I intended to review a figure panel before our meeting, but bench experiments delayed me. The familiar feeling of fear and regret surfaced, but I took a deep breath and walked into the meeting.

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