You are (kind of) in control of your universe

The Secret is a self-help book that suggests that simply picturing yourself in certain situations will eventually make those situations a reality in your life. The book insists on stating your desires to the universe, constantly, like a mantra. Look in the mirror every morning and say to yourself, “I am wealthy. I am successful. I am confident,” and eventually, those wishes will be wishes no longer. You are in control of the universe.

Expectedly, the book has received widespread criticism. The notion that the universe cares about our mundane desires is a bit pompous. However, is seems that there are  people out there who believe they can control their destiny with their brainwaves alone. The Secret has sold over 20 million copies worldwide and has been translated into 50 languages.

While I do not believe in The Secret‘s every detailed instruction, I find myself thinking about my goals in a somewhat related and abridged manner. I picture myself sometimes working in my own office, at a desk, diplomas hanging on the walls, with more knowledge in my head than I have now, more expendable income than I have now. It is not a specific place I am working, and really, the visual picture I have of myself isn’t all that important. The sense of belonging, responsibility, and confidence I imagine is the most notable part of the daydream. I don’t really conjure this image on purpose in an attempt to lure the universe in that particular direction; rather, I bring it to my mind’s eye during times when I need reassurance of the trajectory in which I have set my life.

However, simply wanting something to happen isn’t enough – that is most people’s problem with The Secret after all. You must practice and master your craft, and the soft desires – confidence, happiness – will follow.

A couple weeks ago I participated in Virginia Tech’s “Nutshell Games”, during which graduate students across the university had 90 seconds to explain their research to a lay audience. Initially I was terrified at the thought of standing on stage, alone, and reciting a speech word for word. However, I was reminded of my image, in which I am a confident person who is fluent in her research and able to project herself with ease.

I took up the challenge of the Nutshell Games and was pleasantly surprised at the abilities of my fellow graduate students. Needless to say, I did not perform as well as they did, or even in the way I had pictured I would perform in my head (The Secret was wrong, again!) I was initially very disappointed by my inability to keep my heart rate and composure under control during those 90 seconds on stage.

A week later however, I was rewarded with some redemption. Our Communicating Science class had the opportunity to travel to Eastern Middle School in Pembroke, Virginia to give presentations about our research. In this much more informal setting, I was able to convey my science in the way I picture myself doing in the future. As a visual learner myself, I was able to use my strengths to give demonstrations about how the cow’s digestive system works, and how we study it.

Not pictured: Children being completely enthralled with the workings of the ruminant digestive system.

Not all communication, audiences, or settings are alike. It will take practice in a variety of situations to overcome doubts and fears I have about myself and my abilities. I will not only continue to keep that image of a successful science communicator in my mind’s eye, but I will actively search for opportunities to practice that role. If someone asks me how I find the drive to do it, I will tell them my secret.



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