In high-school I was too light (250 pounds), too week (280 pound bench), too slow (5.5 s 40 yard time) to be a ‘good’ offensive line football player — but somehow managed to lead a team to the 5A state title game, set school rushing records, and land a D1 college scholarship to play for Tom Cable, an offensive-line guru.
In college my SAT scores were too low (1240/1600), GPA too low (3.26/4), GRE scores too low (720/800 quantitative), qualifier scores too low, to be a ‘good’ researcher in mechanical engineering — but somehow managed to win the Outstanding Senior Award in ME at Idaho and follow it up with the top Masters Thesis across all disciplines in Western North America for 2008.
In my career as a Professor my publication count is too low, my H-index too low (8), my funding expenditures too low, to be a ‘good’ faculty member in mechanical engineering — one of my big hit ideas looked bad in preliminary calculations, in multiple ways, everyone lost confidence until the experiments started showing otherwise.
Statistics don’t lie — I really had/have those metrics.
The problem almost always is not in the statistics/metrics themselves but is in what we decide the statistics/metrics mean. In high-school I focused on conditioning to finish the end of games, not on one-time lifts. In college I focused on building sustaining communities and clubs (led the engineering hall to 3 consecutive hall of the year awards) and didn’t study for placement exams, which I thought were pointless. In my current job I focus on training exceptional students to go into leading jobs in cryogenics and aerospace, everything else is secondary.
Over the years I’ve thought a lot about what this means:
- Work hard, every day, on something that motivates your principles, values, and convictions — you’ll eventually have value to realize.
- Don’t pay attention to the secondary critics and statistics — as long as the ones that matter are still engaged.
- Focus on the force multipliers that matter in the end — which are much harder to measure, quantify, and game.
Now my challenge, and curse, is seeing through the wonderful statistics of all the students to not miss another student like me.
Thanks to everyone that has believed and had confidence in me, despite the statistical ‘evidence’.
(Somewhere J. Edwards Deming is rolling in his grave — “Trust in God, everyone else must bring data.” He should’ve said “everything” instead of “everyone” — it’s much easier to quantify limits on physical objects to manufacture than human beings.”)