Written By Dr. Stacy-Ann Allen-Ramdial
Recently I took a trip back to where it all started for me, Jamaica. Not a vacation in the way one normally envisions a vacation with visits to the beach or time spent at a resort, but a time nonetheless for some rest and reflection. As my plane approached the airport for landing I was overwhelmed by the familiar feeling of being home. I suddenly felt light as all the anxiety, fear and worry that I, and many of you reading this, unconsciously carry at times faded away. In its place was a feeling of pride and accomplishment, so much so that I dared to give myself permission to mentally pat myself on the back for all my accomplishments since my last visit three years prior. For that short walk from the plane to customs and declaration, I felt like I could take a breathe and be happy about what I have accomplished and who I am without worrying if I was measuring up to some invisible standard of success.
For the next seven days, without access to the internet, which meant not having easy access to email, Netflix, PubMed reminders, AAAS news and all the other things that encompass one’s electronically dominated life, I had the time to reflect on what the last 15 years have meant for me as I embraced the simplicity of life in the countryside where running water and electricity are a luxury for many and unfortunately many of my former classmates have only dreamed of the opportunities and experiences I’ve been so blessed to have.
What I came to realize in that short visit is that for all the challenges overcome and successes I have had, as an immigrant and underrepresented minority in a STEM field, it never feels like I am doing enough. There is this constant feeling that taking even the shortest break to pat myself on the back will create a sense of complacency, which will lull me into falling behind. Over the years this has resulted in me sometimes forgetting to enjoy life as I feel a sense of duty to achieve what my parents and grandparents couldn’t, and the constant need to excel in order to be acknowledged and accepted among my peers.
My seven days of solitude reminded me that for all the rigors of my academic and work life, and the challenges of achieving familial and societal success, It is OK to stop and take the time to say job well done on occasion even if there is still much work to do ahead. Moreover it is OK to accept one’s accomplishments, whatever they may be, as noteworthy. But the most important thing I realized is that nothing beats hearing “job well” or “you did great” from myself.
So for all my STEM family whether an immigrant, underrepresented minority, non- underrepresented minority or a combination of the above take some time to find balance even if it’s just a mental pat on the back.