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#129 Interview with Marie-Hélène Pelletier on How to Build Resilience and Break through Barriers

In thia episode Marie and Tina discuss about how to move from thinking into action, practicing self-compassion, and gradually training exposure to stress in order to build resilience.

Published onDec 08, 2023
#129 Interview with Marie-Hélène Pelletier on How to Build Resilience and Break through Barriers
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Do you feel stuck? Do you tend to procrastinate taking the next steps in your career? If you want to find out why this happens and how to move forward, you should listen to today’s conversation with Dr. Marie-Hélène Pelletier and our host, Dr. Tina Persson.

Marie-Hélène is a trained psychologist who holds a PhD and an MBA from the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. Throughout her career, she has had a prominent role within several organizations and publications in discussing important topics such as workplace mental health and leadership resilience, having authored an upcoming book on the topic, titled "The Resilience Plan”.

#129 Interview with Marie-Hélène Pelletier on How to Build Resilience and Breaking through Barriers

In this episode, in an almost coaching-session-like fashion, Marie-Hélène and Tina discuss common situations and cases they have found while helping people with their careers. They converse about how to move from thinking into action, practicing self-compassion, and gradually training exposure to stress in order to build resilience.

Marie-Hélène also emphasizes the importance of looking inward and grounding ourselves in our own values, despite external expectations. By the end of the episode, you will have heard advice about managing expectations and nurturing and investing in your brain - a sample toolkit that can help you “take the one first action” towards your next goal!

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TRANSCRIPT

Tina Persson: Hi and welcome to PhD Career Stories! This is Tina Persson talking and today I have a guest in the podcast - it's Marie-Hélène Pelletier and she's a PhD and MBA. Welcome to the podcast, Hélène! How are you doing?

Marie-Hélène Pelletier: I am good. I'm great, actually! Very happy to be here with you, Tina and everyone.

Tina: Thank you, because I'm super excited! And I must admit that, you are sitting in Vancouver, I'm sitting in Scandinavia, and I still find it amazing that we can meet like this because it feels like you are (...) in my bedroom, actually, when I'm sitting in my living room. [laughter]

Marie-Hélène:  I agree, I love it! Absolutely love that chance, how easy it is, and I agree. It feels like we're in the same room.

Tina: Yeah, we are! And we are not only that - we are actually sharing a lot. We have a lot in common because you are a psychologist but you also work as a career coach, and I work as a career coach. So we're going to discuss a lot of interesting topics and cases that we jump into when we're having our clients here. But first a short introduction of you, Marie-Hélène, because you have done so much. You have such an amazing background! It will be very short, for anyone now listening. [If] you are curious about this fantastic and amazing woman, (...) you can find everything about her on her Linkedin webpage that you can find in the description and abstract here. But, very shortly, Marie-Hélène, she is an international keynote speaker, she's an author of the book “The Resilience Plan”, she is a mental health expert and psychologist. You are from Vancouver, British Columbia, and you have an education from (...) University Of British Columbia. Is that correct?

Marie-Hélène: That's correct. [I’m] originally from Quebec City, actually, two of my degrees are from there and then the two others are from here, on the West coast, in Vancouver, where I live now. Yes.

Tina: Ah, where you live now! Thank you for the correction. Thank you. So, we share something: we both love to help people, we love to help people to move on in their career and life, and to thrive. And, sometimes when we talk about clients, bump into cases, and now when we [were] preparing for the podcast, we discussed “What's really going on in the world - after corona, before corona?”, and I said that yesterday when I gave a keynote myself. Everything in my life at the moment is “before corona” or “after corona”, and something has happened after corona. And what I have experienced a little bit more and more - and you have written that in “The Resilience Plan” - [is that], sometimes when I have my clients, they have read all the books. They have read your fantastic book, they have read my book. They have read books about everything: impostor syndrome, everything… And they have answers [to] all the questions, but then that's it. And now I would love to hear you: what is really going on with these people here? What has happened? They are scientists, they are experts, they know how to read the books, they read all the blogs, etc. I’d like to take that first case and hear your thoughts about it.

Marie-Hélène: Yes. Yes, I know. I find that, if we're interested in high-level education, research, PhDs, these kinds of things, it's fair to say that most of us are interested in learning, in information, in data, in research and in reading and acquiring even more knowledge and information. So that’s our natural [state], we're just curious, we love it. Then, when it comes to ourselves, we use the same approach. Let's say we're struggling with making things happen, getting things going in our own research or our own work or our own personal life, really. And so we use the same approach: we read, read, read. And it gets to a point where - often I've seen this in my work and myself, actually, I've done this too - it becomes almost avoidance. So we're reading and we're not actually taking action. So some changes may be happening in our thinking and how we're feeling but it's not translating in what we do, or don't do, or change, or experiment with here. And that's why we stay stuck. We're just not moving into the action phase of it. So, I've had clients a number of times that have said “Okay, MH, you've got this combined background, I've told you everything about my situation. What's the next book I should read?” and I say “Well, your homework is to not read a book, actually. So, whatever book you're reading, [with] the time you would have taken to read this book let's figure out, instead, what action you're going to take.” And then that may differ from person to person. Often, they actually know what that action should be. And, if they don't, we discuss it together. But there is a point where [I say] “No, no, no. In this case, no more reading.” It's similar in some ways, Tina, to what many of us have experienced. When - in my case, that's many years ago - I was doing my PhD and, at some point, my supervisor said “Stop getting more articles! Stop reading more! I want to see something written by next week. Go!”, and I was like “Aghhh!” [laughter] You know?

Tina: Yeah, I know that feeling. “Oh, no, no, no!” [laughter]

Marie-Hélène: But then we do it - many of us have gone through this -, we do it and then, yeah, we see that it moved us. Was it perfect? Was it everything we needed to do? Far from it, far from it! But it is what we needed to do and it's similar here sometimes.

Tina: You know, it's a sort of procrastination, that I can hear. And it's a little bit similar [to] when you have clients and they get stuck with the resume and CV, they are correcting and correcting the resume, writing it better and better, but never using it. And if they use it, it's one time and then they have a reaction. “No, no, it wasn't good enough, so they go back and write an even better resume. It’s sort of a procrastination process. But (...) we have our followers and it could be that many of them are sitting thinking “Okay, that was maybe me. I’m actually reading a lot, and now she's telling me not to read.” But do you have some simple self tips that you can tell us? How they could start if they don't have a coach, for example.

Marie-Hélène: Yes. Well (...), so we're assuming they want to move forward with whatever their goal is, (...) whether it's the next thing they need to write or their resume that needs to get out or whatever it is.

Tina: Yeah.

Marie-Hélène: So you're wanting to take that action, you found yourself just reading but you're not taking it. (...) So what I would say here is, I mean, it depends what gets in the way for each person. Sometimes it's just (...) taking that first very small step. So my suggestion here, one suggestion may be to identify the one next action. So, not the next overall thing that needs to happen like “sending my resume to at least 10 universities or organizations”. So, not that. Just the one next action. So the one next action, given that I've worked on my resume already and I'm just trying to make it better and all this, it may be that (...)this time I will print it, look at if this printed version could actually go somewhere, if it's decent enough that it could. And that 's it. That's what my one next action is: just to have printed it and seen that it could go. (...) This is now fairly doable, this is at most a five-minute action. So now we've made it so small that it's kind of hard to say “No, I cannot do this.” It's very small. But now that you've likely done it then you've changed your pattern. You've now moved into action so you can plan the one next action after that. And now you're on a different path, which may be to send it to one organization, the one that you're least interested in, the one that's least consequential, right? 

Tina: Yeah, that's a good tip. Yeah, yeah.

Marie-Hélène: So we make it as easy as possible and, if that feels too big, fine. Send it to one of your colleagues just to test the fact of sending it and how they receive it. They know you already. They're harmless. 

Tina: Yeah.

Marie-Hélène: But you're doing something. Because we know that, when we're implementing, the technical term here is “active coping”. So now we're active, as opposed to passively just playing with things here. So we're being active. It increases our sense of self-efficacy, the belief that we can influence this. And then that changes our approach to this task, to other tasks, to future tasks and puts us on a different path forward.

Tina: So, what I can hear is that you like them to break it down into small steps. And I like the tips that you said, you know? Okay, you have a list of companies, start [by] applying for jobs you're not interested in, so you start training this pattern of applying, maybe.

Marie-Hélène: Yes.

Tina: [You’re] not interested anyway, so if you are invited for an interview, you don't have to take it seriously, you know? It's like just training yourself into a new behavior. Is that sort of what I hear you explaining?

Marie-Hélène: It's training and, also, it depends [on] each person what gets in the way. But for some there is a bit of anxiety there and doing it this way also functions as exposure. So yes, you're training and getting used to it. You're also exposing yourself to low-level stress and then you can build from it, such that you'll be less and less anxious, even as you apply to more significant, more interesting places where you'd like to contribute.

Tina: Yeah. I’d like to dig into the other case here, which is very closely related, that is clients that have all the answers already. You know, they know everything, they can answer all questions. But, as a career coach or coach here, you get the feeling [that] it's sort of an answer they have trained, but it's not really on a level that they may be 100% sure themselves what the answer consists of. I don't know if you have experienced that, but it sounds like they know everything, they have all the answers. “I know the labor market”, “I know all the 100 questions”, and “I know who I am” and blah, blah, blah… And, still, stuck and very frustrated.

Marie-Hélène: Yes.

Tina: What would you say? Is that also procrastination or is that something else connected to something else deeper?

Marie-Hélène: It again varies often, you know, ask your question to a psychologist or a coach. Because we can all think of so many different scenarios of something that sounds like this, right? But also I say this: Yes, I provide some ideas and some of them may fit with someone and it may not fit for someone else. But, even as we're discussing this, sometimes it may give you or whoever, all of us, ideas about how that could apply for us potentially. Sometimes when we have all the information, I've seen it become (...) a way to cover a bit of (...) anxiety about actually taking action and the fear of what the consequence could be (...) that goes with it, but therefore it's an avoidance behavior.

Tina: Avoidance.

Marie-Hélène: So [you’re] not labeling it like this at all, obviously you're not: you think you're getting information, doing the things, but really, you're stuck in the information place. Sometimes there is this aspect of being perfectionist - you've alluded to this - that we're (...), in order to get to these levels of research, of education, that kind of thing, a number of people have excelled in either almost every way or at least a number of ways. And so it gets to a point sometimes where we think of ourselves as needing to excel in everything. Sometimes people around us have added their perspective on this, so they think we excel in everything. We so don't, but they somehow think this and then it becomes this position that we find ourselves in feeling like we need to correspond to that identity that people see in us, that we've built in ourselves and then we're over here, high up here, and we logically know that not all 12 places we're going to apply to will say “Yes, you are the ideal person for us. We need you now.”, and so therefore we don't move. We stay stuck here. And a way sometimes to get unstuck from this is to step back, take a distance from (...) all of this: this identity building from others, identity building from ourselves. Because, really, at this point this is gonna be our life, really. So, enough with trying to appear perfect, ideal, excelling in everything to everyone. We're human, we probably can excel in some areas, probably cannot excel in 100% of areas. And so that may be a moment where we want to get back to “Okay, what are my values? What's most important for me in life, both personally and professionally?” All of this together. I often suggest you write it down. Yes, we're aware of some of these things but writing it down helps the reflection and going in millions of directions, as our minds can do, right? And so we collect this information more specifically here. And then there are other other types of exercises that can help us understand our context, with a realistic perspective, but the most important element of all of these is to be stepping back and only thinking about this for ourselves. Because now this is really the essence of Tina, this is the essence of me, it's the essence of each person who's with us here in our conversation today. And [it’s] when we're connecting with this now that we can plan for what needs to happen next with a sense of being grounded in where I want to go, which, really, even from an intellectual perspective in our research, that's what we've done! We've had to plant our stick in the ground and say “I am doing this.” So some of that process is similar to what now needs to happen for you here as a person, only defined by you. No one else is calling that shot: you are. And then moving forward with that clarity.

Tina: Yeah, it's very good tips and and I happen to hear that, because I remember when I was stuck. To share something, (...) I remember I also had the answers, sort of. But I didn't. It was more [that] I was afraid of something I didn't know what it was. So (...), for me, (...) I had to keep up a face of “I [am] an expert, I [am] an assistant professor, I should know everything.” And then, just to step back and start to say “I need help”... And that leads me to my next sort of topic to discuss and that is asking for help. And I learned that (...) I didn't know how to ask for help. I learned, as an assistant professor I had a challenge to take the initiative to sort of ask for help, which sounds today a little bit odd, but it was. So I had to train it and I also needed to go back and say “Hey, it's me. I am responsible for my life, it's not someone else.” It's not you in front of me here, if you were my coach. And it's not my former manager's fault. It's me! And it took quite a while and it was a bit connected to asking for help.

Marie-Hélène: Yeah.

Tina: So, any comments on that?

Marie-Hélène: I love it. You know, as you were describing this I was thinking “Oh, I've done the same, same thing.” (...) Because I'm a psychologist, and when you do your PhD, you're in part training to be a psychologist, in part doing the actual PhD research. But so, in the work I was doing with individuals, at times I was working with professionals, leaders, and all this. And so, as a way to to join them in their reflection, I would say things like “Yes, it's very understandable that this (whatever) situation is generating this level of stress or this reaction in you, this burn-out”, whatever it was. And, at times, I would even say “It could be the same for me, I'm not immune to it.” I would say this, Tina, and in my head I was secretly thinking “No, not really. Because I have all the knowledge. I am like…whatever, protected, because I know.” And, hello, five years later I'm in these extremely demanding situations, I'm seeing it and I'm like “Oh my god…it is actually happening”. [laughter]

Tina: [laughter] I do the same, I do the same! Yeah…

Marie-Hélène: So, just to show (...) how you can have all this knowledge - and that's true for any other profession, a physician may have all the knowledge about physical health, [but] it does not make them immune to having physical health issues themselves. So it's the same for all of us. (...) Some of my clients - university professors, some of them early-, mid- or even late-career - will come to me and, yeah, they have thought about this for a while, they delayed this for a while as well. Sometimes what I've heard from them and how they're thinking about it is, if they're a bit further on the continuum and they're burned out, at some point it's just like “Okay, I need help.” So (...) it becomes more obvious when it's at that stage. Those that come a bit earlier, it's because they are proactively seeing connecting with a resource as investing in their brain, investing in themselves. That's how it makes it click, and I actually think, had I thought of it this way, way back in my career, it possibly would have helped me connect sooner with resources.

Tina: Yeah.

Marie-Hélène: And then that’s actually fascinating, because the same ways that they're investing in going to conferences, publishing, doing their own research, all the things, preparing for the teaching that they do, all of that, they then see working with a resource - whether it's me, you as a coach, or other resources - as an investment in their career. And then that clicks a bit more easily, makes more sense, and then they do the work and when it's done, it's done and they move forward.

Tina: Yeah. And I like that connection you are [making], because it's an investment and I take the analogy that you go to the gym and you're pumping a muscle, but your brain is a huge thing that you need to train (...) as well, you know? So, it's a holistic mindset. It's not only your physical capacity, it’s your mental capacity, and you need to train that as well.

Marie-Hélène: You need to.

Tina: Yeah, yeah, yeah, you need to and you will feel better. You will produce more, and I believe you will be extremely happier in many ways.

Marie-Hélène: You will! And the other thing, too, that sometimes I've heard - again, just thinking about the reasoning that seems to click - is I've had university professors literally come to me and say “What I have, what is most important is my brain, my creativity. I know I need to maintain this in order to keep doing the type of work, the type of research that I'm doing. And I also know that, for the past few decades, as is the case for any brain, its functions are harder over time.”

Tina: Yeah.

Marie-Hélène: And to your point about muscles: there are things we can do to help it stay healthy, help it stay engaged, optimize it. And so, sometimes, that's the other angle that will connect with the values of individuals who are doing this type of work.

Tina: Yeah, it is. And I'm connecting it now a bit to what is the skill that is top ranked at the moment, particularly on LinkedIn and among companies: adaptability. We will not dig into it, but there are certain characters and abilities connected to adaptability. Like, you know, optimism, hope, mental flexibility, mindset. And all of that is coachable, as I say, it's coach training. You can be there, but you can, with training and coaching and hard work, change your abilities so your life will be easier. You will be more successful. And I believe in the future - and we're coming into the next sort of case, it's a bit connected to that, because many academic people… it's global careers. They could come to Canada, the United States or Europe and they say “Okay, I'm going to do a PhD”, and then they start to do the PhD, and then they fall in love and that person is from another country. And then one person may be from France and the other one from America and then soon or later “We can do a postdoc again” and then suddenly “Oh, we need a life here. Okay, I need a visa.” Life becomes complicated, and this is an experience I have. It's not easy to navigate this sort of early globalization, where you have a partner from one country and you are living in two, there are many countries involved…And here it is about resilience, and resilience in an unknown world is also part of being adaptable. So, we come to this topic that you have written a book about: building resilience. Because, when I meet my clients, I sometimes suggest “You know what? Sometimes we just have to do things without actually knowing, because what is beyond is unseen at the moment. And we need to learn to live with that.” Your thoughts and reflections around that would probably help these people a lot, Hélène.

Marie-Hélène: Yeah. Yes, yes, there are many angles to what you said. (...) Everything you said is exactly that experience… And the additional piece too, especially if we're staying in an academic-type career in this increasingly global, “everywhere” world, is still academia is fairly traditional in its thinking and its approach. Universities are evolving, departments are getting more creative in how to support couples and relationships, because they know that's in part how they will retain people. But it requires a lot of creativity, flexibility, and it's a fairly traditional system in a world that's changing much faster. So these two sometimes take a while to connect. (...) So, a few, a couple of ideas, just things to consider: the approach we need to have when we do research is immensely different from the approach we want to consider when managing our career in our life, with this in mind, whether we go into academia or in industry. And I personally experienced this very first hand, because, in pairing a PhD here and then doing an MBA, here's what happened to me: when I shared with my colleagues, PhD’s here, that I was going to do an MBA - not my good friends, obviously - but, for many, I was abandoning that ship, like I was not a real researcher, whatever, because I was going out - and especially because I was coming from psychology to business - it was like “Okay, you're not a real psychologist because now you're interested in business”. And then I go into business here and they say “Well, you're not a real business person, because you have a PhD, so (...) what do you know?”

Tina: [laughter]

Marie-Hélène: “How are you going to be able to navigate this amount of nebulousness and uncertainty and all this?” So they are very different, but it's possible. We have intellectual flexibility. That's what, in part, you've used to create your research and you just need to use it here. So, in some ways, entering the levels of research that people need to do when they do PhDs and after, we are entering a fair amount of uncertainty here. We don't necessarily see it this way, because we see it as part of our research, setting up our research question, or whatever we're doing. But the reality is that we are navigating uncertainty here. And, the more we are acknowledging this for ourselves, the more we can perhaps realize that we've done this before, build a bit of confidence here, transfer this experience, this knowledge here. It will look different, I agree, but there's still an element that is transferable. And I think acknowledging for ourselves that “Okay, number one: I've done some level of managing uncertainty, so I can do this here”; also acknowledging “The uncertainty I managed doing research over here is more comfortable for me than the uncertainty that now I have to manage here.” But here's the thing, and it's not just a nice-to-have or a psychologist thing to say: anytime - and that connects with, Tina, your comment about adaptability and agility, the mental agility we want to nourish, as we go through transitions like this - we actually know from research that, as we go through challenging situations, if all we do is label the emotion in our head  - you don't need to write about it, talk to someone about it, meditate on it, none of this, you can just acknowledge the information and consider it valid -, that's very important. So, “I am feeling stressed out or anxious about all these applications, and it’s understandable! Because I'm putting myself out there.” Very important, what I just did now is I basically calmed the alarm center in my head long enough that I can actually think. Otherwise, if I'm feeling this stress, and I'm telling myself “But I shouldn't, because I'm so good, so competent, so strong, everyone tells me I can do anything”, whatever, then (...) the alarm system will still be on.

Tina: Yeah.

Marie-Hélène: So it's the recognition of the emotion and the acknowledging it as valid, and the term here is self-compassion! This is what self-compassion is. It helps the brain. It allows us to be more adaptable as we navigate this. So, (...) if you're looking for one next action to consider doing, just label your emotion, consider that it’s valid - that in itself will help your brain. There's many other things but that's one of them.

Tina: Yeah, you put it in sort of boxes. And now when you say that, I'm sitting here thinking “Oh, god, I remember what I did”, (...) when I was in this phase where I was like you. I was [an] assistant professor and I was very unhappy, and I started to work as a recruiter. I [moved] from this academic to recruiter and, you know, the people in academia were just shaking their heads, “What are you doing with your life?” So I was misunderstood on both sides: I was the crazy academic there, and there I was also crazy. And what I learned was, when I then was running into all these challenges, “I need to sleep, I need to eat”, so I boxed my life and labeled my thoughts. Exactly. So, when I went to bed, I took my box and said “Now I've done that…and now my feeling is…, but I’m gonna sleep because tomorrow is a new day.” [There’s] no point for me [in] worrying overnight because I can't do anything anyway. No one is awake. So, by doing that and making that statement when I went to bed, I fell asleep, because my brain slept.

Marie-Hélène: Hmm, very nice.

Tina: That was (...) the label. Is that what you mean? Because that is what I did, actually.

Marie-Hélène: It sounds like it worked for you, that's wonderful! Yes, (...) because when you're acknowledging the experience that you're having, it does put it to rest in some ways. Now, for you it worked out amazingly. Don't we wish that we could all do this that quickly before and then “poof!”, go to sleep? Sometimes it works, sometimes it's harder. And, for a lot of people, it can be a bit harder, (...) but the process is still a very helpful one. So sometimes the recommendation I have is: do this - the acknowledgement of how you're feeling and everything - as early as you can. I mean, for you it worked, so that's not a problem, but I would say [do it] just before dinner. So, (...) create a bit of buffer between this moment and the moment where you sleep, (...) because then you've done the thinking, you've allowed things to calm down - ideally -, and then you have a buffer during which you can allow the brain to relax into something else, whatever you enjoy doing: a little art, a little reading, a little watching of easy TV, whatever it is, warm bath, whatever you need to to facilitate the sleep. Just because for some people it's challenging. But the overall idea of acknowledging so that the brain can relax, it's a wonderful thing.

Tina: Yeah, you can train. It is trainable, and you can actually convince yourself [there’s] no point worrying, and box it in. So, I love to hear the way you say it. So, listen carefully, take the tips. It is possible, it's very possible. And we are both sitting here as professionals and we both have been in those situations, so I very well understand this, when your brain is boiling and it's like your brain is growing, sort of, I don't know. That feeling that I'm panicking and everything is just chaos, I do remember that. It's awful, actually.

Marie-Hélène: Yeah, it's very taxing. There is another book, and it's not going to be a book as in “Read one more book!” [laughter] Wait a second, it's a workbook. And some of the people who are listening with us here today may know of it already, but it's called “Mind Over Mood”, and “Mind Over Mood” is a world bestseller. The two authors are Greenberger and Padesky - if you don't remember, you can always send me a note on LinkedIn or whatever. But it is a workbook that incorporates useful information from research we have on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, so how to manage our brain, but (...) probably more than two thirds of the book are exercises. And, again, I'm going to say you're just reading the books, nothing to change things…you want to write! Write in the book or write on a sheet separate from the book. Shred the sheet after, if you don't want anyone to ever see it, that's fine! But do the exercise. (...) And these exercises, I am mentioning it because all of us at times will have moments where the brain is spinning, just spinning.

Tina: Spinning, agh!

Marie-Hélène: And sometimes it will spin at night, during the night, all night, whatever. And often what will help is to give space for the brain to spin out all the thoughts in a way that's structured. Some people journal about it and it works for them, that's already something. But if you're liking to have a structure to it, a direction that is based on research and all this, a book like this can help as well.

Tina: Yeah, it's a very good tip. And I (...) remember when I was assistant professor and I had my students and they came in and they were like “Oh, I'm so stressed, I'm so stressed”. I always let them sit down and blah, blah, blah, and then write it down. And then we looked at the paper and we’d say (...) “It's not that much”, you know? “Oh God, no! I thought it was more!”, but it was the brain that had been spinning so it was just disorganized. So then we say “Let's structure and we can [set] some priorities, so that means, if we're looking here, this week we can finish one task, maybe?”, “Yeah, I can do that!”, “And then you have a week, and then you start on Monday again. What about that?”, “Oh it feels really good!” [laughter] So it is about structuring things, writing down. Could it be so also that we have social media? So, we have so [many] impulses, so it starts to spin, because there is so much going on, so we lose focus on what actually is important to finish today.

Marie-Hélène: Yes, yes! And it connects a bit with what we were saying earlier. (...) Sometimes [it] will be just how the culture of the particular department we're in is, how the culture of the particular field we're in is. There will be all kinds of forces, including social media, and I'll go back to what we were saying earlier: we need to step back, think about “Okay, where are my values? Where do I want to contribute?”, so that you create where your focus will be, where it will not be - it cannot be everywhere, because we're human -, and with this then you can create a plan, a direction that is realistic and doable and aligned with your own essence, your own values. And that's often what then, again, calms things down, makes us feel more clear, grounded, whatever word you're using. But you know where you're going, you know you can get there… You're doing this.

Tina: [We’re] coming to an end to the podcast here, but I have another one here for you. It's not really a case, it's something that came up when you were [saying] that maybe we tried to plan too much. That could also be part of being an academic, we like to plan, we like to control. So I'm thinking about this “Alice in Wonderland”: should I go to the right or to the left? (...) But if you don't know where you're going, it's ok to choose, it doesn't matter. Because each road will lead to something. And that sort of mindset, is that something you can elaborate around? (...)

Marie-Hélène: Yes. (...) So, I agree. Number one: yes, we want to move into action, most definitely, if we're feeling stuck, stuck in a rut, whatever it is, then take one action. Any action, but take an action, because we've done the “not taking action” now for so long, that's why we're stuck in a rut. So the way out is an action, so I agree with that direction for sure. The other thing that connects with what you're saying that I've seen is: yes, people make lists, long lists, lists that include everything and that generally assume that any of these things will take an amount of time that turns out to be between [1-10%] of its actual real time. So, we're grossly underestimating how much time things take. So one possibility there may be [to] add to your list, for each item or at least a first twenty, add how much time you think this will take. “Okay, this is a three-hour thing, this is a half an hour thing.” You put the numbers and then pick one, do it and look at the time. Learn, experiment, use your scientific mind to test your assumptions. That's what you do all day, every day: you’re testing assumptions, you’re testing hypotheses. Let's do it here. Use the same approach, so it's nothing different, I don't have to convince you of the value of this, you know it already. Just use it for yourself. And my prediction, if I had to put money, I'm gonna say for most people, for most tasks, we're thinking that this is way shorter than it actually is. We also assume that everybody else only needs half of this time to do it. “There's a problem with me, I'm actually very slow”, but that's part of the culture. The overall culture is [that] everyone is amazingly exceptional and being that wonderful takes you 5 minutes. And the reality is that no, no, no. No. It's like watching and you know any olympian doing their sport on TV and saying “Oh, that looks so easy.” Okay, no, no, no, right? We know it isn't, so [it’s the] same thing here: no, not true and so what if it takes someone else one hour to do this thing? Your reality is it's taking you five, you need to be realistic about it. Otherwise, just hoping it’s going to take you one, beating yourself up because it didn't take you one or it will not take you one. None of this is gonna be helpful.

Tina: Yeah, exactly, wrong expectations. Yeah, it’s wrong expectations.

Marie-Hélène: Yeah, agreed.

Tina: And I think that can sum up a little bit because what you actually end up [with] is what is very interesting: that we look [at] the very successful people, you would like to be that, but we forgot all the work and all the failures behind their success. Because no one really talks about the failures. (...) I now remember that, when I was looking for a job, I listened to all these professionals and (...) it seemed to be so easy. So I felt like a failure when I listened to it but, in the end, I checked, it was a 10-years career behind it. It was an enormous amount of hours. It's just that, for them, these 10 years passed by and they didn't tell all the steps. But [there’s] so much behind it. And that was actually how this podcast started: please share stories from PhDs and please include all the challenges and problems you actually had. And, with that said, I'm going to share another thing here. (...) I have a good friend - and you should always be careful when you give tips to very, very close and good friends -, and she is in the process of looking for a job, and I could hear in her voice [that] she found it very difficult. And I tried to tell her that “You know, it's a numbers game, in the end. It could be that the people you are reaching out to, the people that like you you don't know yet.” So it is, in the end, a numbers game, you must reach out. And I said it many times, I decided in the end “No, I'm not going to tell anymore”, and then she actually contacted a person that said exactly the same thing and that got stuck. And I say “Yeah, you know, it's a numbers game and you know it's not about the “no”s, it's not about how easy it was for other people, because in the end you actually don't know how much work they put in, because maybe they don't admit it. So it's only one thing that's important: it's you! [laughter] It’s about you.

Marie-Hélène: Yes, so true. Yeah, I agree.

Tina: But now here, Marie, I would like you to end here. So, if they now listen to you here, (...) we have listeners here that may be in the situation now where they feel they're a little bit stuck and they don't know how to take that first action you talk about. Could you give them three tips [on] (...) how they could start? Just very shortly and quickly, summarizing what you said here in this podcast.

Marie-Hélène: Yes. I would say… So, first disclaiming this again because each person’s situation is different, but number one, I would say: Make sure that you are investing in your overall resilience, because you will need it for anything here. And so, if we're wanting to be very specific, in my work I see that a lot of people know and trust the research about the importance of meditation and they have not incorporated it yet. So, I would say maybe look for your one next action related to incorporating some meditation. I'm not talking about half an hour every day, starting tomorrow. It could be a small, first step: one time, two minutes per week is a start, with anything. So I would say invest in your resilience, possibly consider this. The second thing I would say is: be even more realistic about your expectations of yourself. See with even more clarity the identity you've developed a bit for yourself, others have put on you. Take it: you still have the credits for the wonderful things you've done. And you need to lead your own next phase, and what will be necessary for you to do this is to have visibility on the reality of your situation: what you're great at, what's easy for you to do, what needs more time and attention, possibly even support. Get it! So just being very realistic here. And the third thing I would say is: make a plan. Actually make a plan with any, even if it's an easy action. It could be a more fully developed plan, whatever, but (...) find something you can be proactive about. And a concrete idea here may be, depending on when you're listening to this conversation, when is your next day off? Could you proactively plan for at least half an hour that is to replenish your brain, to be creative in ways that have nothing to do with your work but just to nourish it. Could you make sure you carve out time for you alone even if you're going to be with family and friends, whenever that day is? So these would be the three I would go for.

Tina: Yeah, wonderful. So I wrap them up here. One: Resilience, incorporating meditation. And number two is realistic expectations. And the other one is (...) have a plan so you nurse time on your own, so your brain is actually creative. It's the three ones? 

Marie-Hélène: Yes, that would be the three ones for us today.

Tina: I think [they’re] wonderful tips. So, with that said, thank you a lot, Marie-Hélène. It's been a pleasure to have you here on the podcast. I hope to invite you again, and for all of our followers I say: thank you for following us and coming forward with so many great suggestions for new people, and never hesitate to contact us and reach out to us. We are happy for you. You find more about Marie-Hélène on her LinkedIn page, you can find it in the abstract connected to this podcast and never hesitate to follow us on Instagram, Linkedin and Facebook. So, with that said, have a wonderful day, take care and see you soon.

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Terry Thomas:

This was one of the best podcasts that I have listened to!

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