Why Mistakes are Actually a Good Thing

The Road to Success_crop

Every year, I go to the Global Leadership Summit. It is more or less what it sounds like. The two day summit has about a dozen speakers who talk about how to become a better leader. 

This year's speakers included Simon Sinek, Angela Ahrendts, T.D. Jakes, Shelia Heen, Danny Meyer, John C. Maxwell, and Juliet Funt, to name a few. In the past, they have had Patrick Lencioni, Condoleezza Rice, Sheryl Sandberg, Horst Schulze, and Brene Brown to name just a handful. Google them if you don't know them and read some of what they have to say, or better yet, go find their TED Talks.

There were several themes that went through this year's talks and they are all interconnected, but one that stood out was mistakes. Particularly the importance of making mistakes, admitting them, learning from them, and letting other people make them.

Craig Groeschel said that people would rather follow a leader who is real instead of one who is always right. And real people make mistakes.

T.D. Jakes talked about how the Wright brothers got their inspiration for flying by watching eagles. Eagles nest high up in tall trees and on cliff walls and when it's time for the baby eagles to learn to fly, they don't have the benefit of safety harnesses and flying lessons. Eaglets practice flying by flapping their wings and jumping from branch to branch. Then, not too long after that, they jump out of the nest and try to fly. Eagles don't learn to fly by flying. They learn to fly by failing and learning, fast.

I got to see this in action several years ago. We had a cooper's hawk nest outside our window. I got to watch this little hawk  grow up for about two months while he was in the nest. He would hop back and forth across the nest flapping wings that didn't even have big bird feathers on them yet. He was like a little ugly cotton ball hopping around. Sorry Cooper (yes, we named him Cooper), but you weren't exactly cute right after you hatched. After a couple weeks, he could get a little air, then go to farther branches, and then one day he was gone. It only took about two months from hatching to leaving the nest. But during that time, we saw a lot of flying mistakes and failure and random crazy flapping. But he learned to fly.   

Another quote from the Summit was "the price of inaction is greater than the cost of making a mistake". This was said by Carla Harris, who was quoting Meg Whitman, who I believe was quoting Meister Eckhart. How many times have you done nothing so long that it turned out to be worse than if you had done what you planned in the first place. How many times have you seen a company do that. We'd like to have all the information for every decision we need to make, but we don't live in that perfect world. Sometimes you have to take action with what information you know now and risk making a mistake.

One of my favorite mistake statements was by Danny Meyer, who said "The road to success is paved with mistakes well handled." Everyone knows that everyone makes mistakes. It's how you handle them that matters. How you handle them will be what's remembered. How you handle them defines who you are. Think about a time when someone made a mistake that affected you. Did they handle it well? Did they handle it poorly? Did you tell people what happened? Of course you did. What story do you want people to tell about your mistakes.

Good leaders admit to their mistakes and work to correct them. They also let their team make mistakes. Simon Sinek said that leaders create environments where their people can do their best and know it's ok to make mistakes. Without this, people will want to protect themselves from their company. Have you ever asked for something seemingly simple and had someone say, "I can't do that, I'd lose my job." That's a person who feels like they have to protect themselves from their company or at least their manager.

The workforce is changing. The days of managers just telling employees what to do are gone. A recent Gallop poll found that only 1/3 of American workers are engaged at work. The change is being pushed by millennials, which became the largest generation in the workforce in 2016, but the changes are wanted by everyone. The study found that “They want their work to have meaning and purpose. They want to use their talents and strengths to do what they do best every day. They want to learn and develop."

All of these things have pushed managers to become leaders. Managers have people who work for them. Leaders have people who want to follow them. 


The Milky Way

Milky Way July 23 2018

Before I went to Colorado, I hoped that I would be able to try to get some Milky Way photographs. In planning the shot, I realized that the full moon would be conspiring to ruin my photograph. But the 2nd night there, at 3:30 am, my husband said I had to wake up and go outside. It was 55 degrees...

But when I went outside and looked up, I could see every star and the Milky Way.

This is one of my shots from that night. It's not the best (I've been reading up on what to do better next time), but to me, it's amazing. 

I've always thought space was amazing. All the stars. The Sun. The Milky Way. We are just flying around a star in a galaxy in the universe. Controlled by the laws of physics. We know so much, and so little, about it all.


The Fixed Mindset vs the Growth Mindset

Study Harder

Last week I was on vacation with my husband's family. This included our 12 year old niece, and three nephews aged 9, 6, and 3.  The kids are growing up so fast. Our niece, for instance, has grown from the little 5 year old flower girl who needed to hold my sister/maid of honor's hand as she threw clumps of rose petals to the ground like she was spiking a ball, into a mature young tween. 

The kids are all just soaking up information like crazy right now. While hiking, eating, and taking in the beautiful Colorado views, their parents took opportunities to teach new words, manners on hiking trail, that you have to get up and keep going when you fall down (this happened frequently), and if you're not good at something, try again and work harder. While vocabulary and manners are important, this last one may have the most impact on them growing up.

A study by Carol Dweck, a professor at Stanford, found that there are two types of mindsets: a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. A person with a fixed mindset believes that their basic abilities, intelligence, and talents are fixed traits. A person with a growth mindset believes their abilities and intelligence can be developed with effort, learning, and persistence.

My parents definitely gave us a growth mindset. They let me know that a 99 on a test meant that I should have studied more. I'll be honest, that was not well received information on my part in junior high and high school. I mean, come on, it's a 99!

But looking back, what it taught me was that trying harder is how you achieve more. Going into his senior year of high school, my dad was 2nd in his class, but he wanted to be valedictorian. Instead of just accepting that the other guy was just a bit smarter then him, he buckled down, studied harder, and graduated as valedictorian.

Dweck's research showed that kids who believe that, through learning, practice, and hard work, they can become smarter and achieve more, outperform kids who believe their intelligence is fixed. How do kids get this growth mindset vs a fixed mindset? From how parents and teachers talk to them.

In a long term study of seventh graders, researchers found that the just fact that the girls outperform boys at a young age, changed the conversations they had with the adults around them. From a young age, the girls heard that they were smart and the boys heard that they needed to focus and try harder. Years later in school, on difficult tasks, the girls gave up on challenging tasks because they didn't think they were smart enough, but the boys tried harder. In fact the smartest of the girls gave up earliest because they were never taught to try harder. 

Work by Carol Dweck and others have found that kids with a fixed mindset avoid challenges, give up early when they run into obstacles, see effort as worthless, ignore useful negative feedback, and feel threatened by the successes of others. On the other hand, kids with a growth mindset embrace challenges, persist in the face of obstacles, see effort as the path to mastery, learn from criticism, and find inspiration in the successes of others.

I think this is one of the reasons that sports really help kids learn to practice and work harder. My sister and I figure skated all our lives. You learn early that figure skating is more about falling and getting back up than it is about doing a 3-4 minute program in a short sequin dress. And even if you do your best, only one person gets 1st place. There are no participation awards in figure skating. The next day, you get back on the ice, do it all over again, and try harder to get 1st place next time.

This is what worries me about this whole everyone gets a trophy world we've become. If everyone gets a prize, how do they learn to try harder next time?

Sure, you want to tell kids they are smart and good at stuff, but don't forget to tell them to try harder too, because that's where the real learning happens.


The Wanderings of a Curious Mind

Stay Curious

I've been talking about staying curious and asking questions lately, so this is how that works in my mind.

On the way home from work today, I was thinking about a book on weird facts that I bought my nephew. That led to that the following thought process...

  • I hope he likes this book.
  • I like random weird facts.
  • My favorite random weird fact (yes, I have a favorite) is that the DNA inside of every cell in the human body would stretch 6ft if you could lay it out end to end.
  • *me Googling how many cells are in the human body*
  • "Hey Siri, what's 35 trillion times 6?" (Technology has made this so easy...)
  • "Hey Siri, how many miles is 210 trillion ft?"
  • "Alexa, what's the circumference of the Earth?"
  • "Alexa, what is 39.7 billion divided by 24,901?"

And that's how buying my nephew a book on weird facts resulted in me knowing that the DNA in my body, if laid end to end, would wrap around the Earth about 1.6 million times. And I find that fascinating.


Independent Thinking - The 9th Thing You Need to Teach Your Daughter

“Blind belief in authority is the greatest enemy of truth.”

After last week's post about the 8 Things Every Girl Should Learn, I got several suggestions about other things that should have been on the list. The list could have easily been 100 things and still not covered everything you need to learn to before you become an adult. One suggestion in particular stuck out. Be an independent thinker. (Thanks Peter!)

Independent thinking has been described as the process of making sense of the world based on your own observations and experiences rather than depending on the word of others. It also means being open-minded enough to change your position when you get new information.

This is one of the things I love about science. When new data comes up, even if it flies in the face of what science used to believe, we rewrite the science books. Before the 16th century, humans believed (except Aristarchus of Samos, but that's a story for a different post) that the sun and planets revolved around the Earth. Then Nicolaus Copernicus presented a model for us revolving around the Sun, followed by Johannes Kepler, and then Galileo Galilei and now we know that we revolve around the sun. All of these scientists asked questions and gathered data to find the answer. That’s independent thinking.

Einstein's teachers thought he was slow and he clashed with school authorities growing up. If he had blindly believed these teachers, he probably would not have taught himself algebra and geometry, or developed his own proof of the Pythagorean theorem, when he was 12. When he was 15, he wrote his first paper, On the Investigation of the State of the Ether in a Magnetic Field. This was the beginning of his theory of general relativity. Good thing he didn't believe what his teachers said...

Teachers (and I'm not just referring to school here) are not always right. A good teacher will let you question them and talk out the answer. A quick search on Reddit and you'll find plenty of stories about teachers who taught incorrect information and stood behind it no matter what. (Remember that teacher who failed a student because he/she believe that Australia was not a country.) If something you've been taught or read doesn't seem right. Question it. Google it. Learn more about it.

Year's ago, when Wikipedia first started, people said you couldn't trust it. A recent study found that it was over 99% accurate. (Yes, I know we can debate this forever, but even professors are secretly using Wikipedia.) Accurate information is at your fingertips. Just Google it...

Unfortunately, today, inaccurate information is also at your fingertips. Anyone can claim to be an authority, so taking the first hit on Google may not be enough. It doesn't take long to go to Snopes or check a couple sources to determine if you should believe what you read online. Being an independent thinker means not taking everything at face value. It means digging a little deeper sometimes.

It also means changing your opinion or belief when you find new information.

The picture at the top of this post is my most treasured book. It is a physics textbook from 1910. It covers the whole range of physics knowledge from the time Einstein was developing the theory of general relativity, from colors to motion to fluid dynamics to gravity. All of physics in 304 pages, including the index, at a cost of $0.70. Imagine if Einstein wasn't curious. If he had blindly trusted his early teachers. We might not have GPS, weather forecasting, automatic doors, digital cameras, supermarket scanners, and nuclear energy

Einstein got things wrong sometimes. He originally believed that the universe was constant and unchanging. When physicists discovered that the universe was expanding, he looked at the evidence and admitted his error. If Einstein could admit he was wrong and change his opinion based on facts, we can too. That's what independent thinkers do.

So how can you become an independent thinker? Well, travel the world for one. Americans have a tendency to think about things as we see them. Get out and experience other cultures. See things how other people see things. Try different things. Step out of your comfort zone and do something new. Research the opposite opinion on something you believe. Understand their frame of reference. Ask why. As kids we asked why all the time. But for some reason we stop asking why and just take things as they are. It's time to ask why more often.

It's never too late to become an independent thinker. Go out and ask why today!


8 Things Every Girl Should Learn to Do

8 Things Every Girl Should Learn to Do


There are clearly a lot more than 8 things that every girl should learn, but here's a list of 8 that are not often taught and I think they should be. I debated the title of this post for a while. Should I say every girl or every child? While I believe that every child should learn these things, I feel like boys learn many of these almost as default by being boys.

1. Take something apart
In a recent post I mentioned getting shocked when I took apart my doll lamp without unplugging it. This was my first memory of taking things apart (as well as a learning moment for me). It was just the first in a long list of things I've taken apart. A list that includes simple things like pens and stylii to comlex things like car engines and computers.

Taking things apart is the best way to learn how the world works. I can't tell you the number of times I've heard female friends say, "I don't want to touch it because I might break it." Although this could be the result of someone breaking everything they touch, more likely, they've didn't grow up with the idea that it was ok to take stuff apart.

Knowing it was ok to take things apart, allowed me to take things apart without the fear of getting in trouble. It also helped me figure out what things I could put back together and what things I needed help on. As an adult, that translates into knowing my limits and knowing where my opportunities to learn and grow are.

2. Build something
This is obviously the flip side to taking things apart (my parents frowned on me taking things apart and leaving it disassembled to move on to the next thing). It's also about building things from scratch. Building things teaches you to organize your thoughts, create a plan, and work through the building process. Building things also gives you a sense of accomplishment. I'm always in awe of people who make things, like beautiful furniture, by hand.

I can't make furniture and most of my attempts are art and sculpture as a child were sadly lacking. Most of what I build today is on the computer. I'm a major data geek and I enjoy building data vizualizations using multiple relational databases to provide insights into information that may not have been obvious.

The thought processes I learned building things as a child are the basis of the ones I used to build data vizualizations.

3. Change a tire
My father taught us to change a tire before we could take our cars out without an adult present. This was right up there with checking the coolant and oil levels in our cars. Being able to change my tire meant not having to rely on someone else on the side of the highway. Changing a tire isn't exceptional hard, but jacking the car up was hard and tires are heavy, especially on my 1977 Trans Am. Learning to change a tire was a lesson in self reliance as much as it was about fixing a flat.

4. Drive a stick shift
I admittedly did not learn this until I was in my mid 20's. It's not that I didn't want to. Several boyfriends attempted to teach me, but I never really got good at it. It really wasn't until I bought a Firebird with a manual transmission, that I couldn't drive, did it become a priority.

My first car after my Trans Am was black Firebird. I decided it was time to drive a stick, so I test drove the automatic and then had a friend test drive the manual. Hours later, I owned a car I couldn't drive off the lot.

I called my boyfriend, now my husband, and said, "Hey, can you come get me and teach me how to drive my new car?" He did, and I learned, and I've driven a stick ever since.

I think every girl should learn to drive a stick for a couple reasons. First, it's just really fun. Like, really, really fun. Second, it's kind of cool knowing how to do this thing not many, or maybe even most, people (in the US at least) knows how to do. And third, the rest of the world still has manual transmissions, so if you want to travel the world, you should learn to drive one too.

I think that everyone should travel and visit other countries. In many countries, public transportation will be all you need, but in other countries, you'll want to drive a car. Renting an automatic is more expensive, and in some cases not available. So just learn to drive a stick.

5. Self defense
Not only are a lot of girls not taught self defence, they are taught the opposite. Many girls are raised to be nice and not offend people to the point that they are not confortable acting even when they feel in danger.

We need to teach girls that it's ok to cross the street if they feel like someone is following them, even if it might offend the other person. We need to teach girls that it's ok to yell or cause a scene if they feel threatened. We need to teach girls some basic self defence. And not just what to do in an attack, but also steps like crossing the street or yelling to prevent an attack.

I can honestly say that as a woman in HVAC, I have never felt threatened or intimidated by a man. I have been tested, but I know what I'm talking aboout and I shut that shit down. I hope we give young girls the confidence to do the same.

6. A good handshake
A couple years back, we took an etiquette class as a work thing. I'm convinced that the woman teaching the class had never met a woman who worked before. At one point, she explained to me that as a woman, it was my prerogative whether I wanted to shake a man's hand or not. Luckily, most of my customers are good friends and we had a running joke about whether they would "rate" to get a handshake. But in the business world, you need a solid handshake and you need to use it. In business, the handshake it usually the 1st impression you make when you meet someone.

Handshakes are a standard business greeting. It shouldn't turn into an arm wrestling match, but your handshake should be solid and confident. I have shaken many women's hands only to find that they were somewhat limp. My mother use to call this a dead fish(she had a way with words...) And no one wants to shake hands with a dead fish.

7. Public speaking
This is a tough one for many people. The only real way to get comfortable with public spealing is to know your presentation content and then practice, practice, practice. When I started my career, I wasn't comfortable with presentations, but I took a presentation class where we did about 30 presentations in 2 days. We started with a 30 second presentation about who we were, proceeded to a 1 minute presentation on a topic we pulled out of hat (mine was on cannonballs and I talked about Wiley Coyote), and then on to longer presentations. In the end, I was comfortable with doing presentations.

Public speaking is a great life skill. In your career, you will eventually need to convince people to do something or buy something or something like that. You will have to do a presentation. It may be one-on-one or you to a hundred people, but you will present something someday. Start getting comfortable with it now. Get rid of your verbal crutches like "um", "like', and my personal crutch, "basically". When you need to stop and think, just stop and think. It's ok to not say anything. In fact, becoming comfortable with moments of quiet is another great skill to have.

8. Tell a Good Story
A big part of your life will be trying to convince someone to do something. It may be your spouse, it may be a coworker, it may be a boss. But it will happen. Humans are a storytelling animal. We don't always buy into facts, think anti-vaccers and flat-earthers, but we like a good story.

You can tell people why something is good for them, but unless you can compell them with a good story, you won't get them on you side. Learn to tell stories, not just speak facts. As children, we can all tell stories, but as we grow up, this skill is "adulted" out of us. Stories are about feeling and emotion. As adults we think everything is about facts, but that's not really how the world works. We build relationships that connect us through emotions.

These 8 skills are not often taught. But we should encourage building stuff and tearing stiff apart. We should teach old school skills like changing a tire and driving a stick shift. We should teach basic life skills like a good handshake, being comfortable speaking to a group, and telling a good story. And these days, one of the most important, and least taught skills for women, is how to stand up for yourself. In this world where new harassment claims and charges pop up everyday, girls need to know where their line is and be willing to stand up for themselves when someone crosses it.


Looking at Everyday Items in a Creative Way

Spoon Reflection

I love photography but haven't taken the time to shoot much lately. So this week I downloaded the GuruShots app and started joining challenges. The app/website let's you upload pictures to enter into challenges. The community votes on the photos using a blind voting system, so no one knows who the photographer is. The app makes money by allowing you to buy "swaps" so you can switch out pictures and unlock "boosts". Between my love of stats and competitiveness, I'm going to have to control myself from swapping too often to boost my votes.

One thing I really like about the app is that I can see future challenges, which gives me ideas for future pictures. Today I joined the What's in Your Kitchen challenge. Anyone who knows me knows that there isn't food in my kitchen, so I had to get creative. I have been feeling like I've been in a creative slump lately, so these challenges give me a little seed of an idea to work from.

I'm a very analytical person and I love science and data and stuff like that, but I think it's important to do creative things as well. Creativity has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, improve medical outcomes, and decrease negative emotions. So I'm trying to do creative things more often.

These are the shots I took today. I really enjoyed finding creative ways to shoot everyday items. I'm going to get back to my 52 week project now too. 

Dino Reflection Teapot with Steam


4 Things I've Learned While Researching My Family Tree

Flags in Saluda

As I was looking for 4th of July pictures for some social media posts, I found this one of flags in Saluda, SC. I took it one summer, when my sister and I were passing through after visiting the Edgefield Genealogy Society. We were looking for information on our Abney ancestors.

My sister and I have been doing our family genealogy for at least a decade now. We've taken some branches dozens of generations back and others just a couple. We have learned so much about our family and about history in general.

What we mostly learned in Edgefield that day is that the "Abney's were prolific and adopted each other's children" after the parents died. This insight coming from the woman at the society shortly after asking if she could "touch us" upon finding that we were Abney's and therefore descendants of the founders of the Edgefield Genealogy Society.

We looked around and noticed that all the portraits on the walls were of Abney's. The Abney's it turns out, are well documented for over 1400 years. That is with the exception of a little period in American history that we are most interested in.

It was weird looking at the portraits of all the Abney's. Mostly because I've never looked like an Abney. While my father is from Cochran, GA, my mother is Vietnamese. I was born in Viet Nam, as a US citizen, but I've never really felt interested in or connected to American history or Vietnamese history.

I wish that we had done our genealogy while I was in high school because it has made history more personal. Suddenly the stories aren't about people we don't know, who did things hundreds of years ago. They were stories about us and our family and the path our descendents followed to get to where we are today.

Here are a few of the things I've learned.

1. My family has been here a long time

I had never really thought about when my family came to America or how they moved through the country once they were here. My dad is from Georgia, his parents were from Georgia, so I figured that was kind of it. After my grandmother on my father's side had passed, we found that she had been looking into her ancestors. We discovered that she had found that her ancestors came to America in 1624. Less than 20 years after the first colonists settled in Jamestown, VA.

On my grandfather's side, we know that two Abney brothers came to America in 1694. It's an odd feeling to, on the one hand, not have been born in America, and on the other hand, be descended from some of the oldest English lineages in the US. Suddenly stories about battles in the Revolutionary War and Civil War were more interesting.

We've even found my great-great-great-grandfather's house in the woods in Georgia. Part of the fireplace and front steps are still standing. 

 

2. I'm descended from kings and pillagers

Kings of England, signers of the Magna Carta, yep, related to them. Mathematically speaking, everyone will be related to these people at some point, but to be able to point to a person and read their story makes it much more interesting.

The Abney history has John Plantagenet, aka John  Lackland, King of England's 2nd oldest son (we were so close….), and at least one king's food taster. Quite an honor and a potentially dangerous job. As well as several pillagers.

Most notable is Sigurd the Mighty, Viking ruler of Orkney, who history notes as having one of the weirdest deaths in history. As the story goes, he was given Orkney and Shetland Islands by Rangwald and became Jarl (Earl). He plundered Scotland and subdued Eaithes and Sutherland in partnership with Thorestein the Red and killed Máel Brigte Tooth and hung his head on his saddle bow. Máel Brigte was apparently buck-toothed and his protruding tooth scratched Sigurd's leg creating a wound that eventually caused his death.

You don't learn this stuff in history class…

 

3. The British Calendar Act of 1751

The British Calendar Act of 1751 reformed the calendar of England and the British Dominions to the Gregorian calendar. (More info here and here. And special thanks to distant cousin R.R. Abney for this one.)

I've been doing my family genealogy for about 20 years and I can't believe I just learned this last weekend. Prior to the British Calendar Act of 1751, the year began in March. Yes, New Year's Eve was in March.

This meant that you could be born on Dec 1, 1750 and be baptized on March 5, 1750. To complicate it even more, Scotland switched their calendar on January 1, 1600, so January 1, 1600 in Scotland is the same day as January 1, 1599 in England.

In making the change, 1752 was a short year. For reasons I don't know, but can only imagine were to confuse people doing genealogy in 2018, they removed several days in September 1752, by making the first week dates September 1, 2, 14, 15, 16. (So actually it was because somehow England had gotten 11 days behind the rest of Europe and they decided to drop days in September, because why not…)

The idea that everything I thought I knew about dates was completely changed this weekend is crazy. How were we never told that New Year's Day used to be in March while we were in school.

 

4. I know nothing about Vietnamese History

I didn't expect to learn Vietnamese history in high school, but I realized that I knew literally nothing else except the Viet Nam War. We learned some about European history. I remember reading about Napoleon at least. I learned that gunpowder was invented in China, but to be honest, that may have been a science class. But most of the rest of the world was left out.

Vietnam's recorded history goes back to 300 BCE and it is one of the oldest pre-historic civilizations. Years ago I participated in the  Genographic Project, which sequenced my mitochondrial DNA to determine which Hapolgroup I am descended from. I come from Haplogroup F.

Haplogroup F moved into East Asia 50,000 years ago and has its greatest diversity in Vietnam. Between 50,000 years ago and Vietnam War is a big gap in history that I plan on learning more about.

So back to Edgefield and my Abney ancestors. While we know about the Abney's back over 1400 years, we have hit a brick wall at my great-great-great-grandfather. Between the Abney's being prolific and adopting each others' kids, and missing our opportunity to talk to our grandparents, we are having to dig through old, but often  interesting, records from the past. We are making progress slowly and each step tells a new story. If you ever get a chance to get the story straight from your grandparents, don't miss that opportunity.


3 Reasons I Love STEM

Trans Am_edit3

I've always been a big geek. A look at my reading list and you will see books about genetics, organic chemistry, physics, virology, the microbiome, and much more. I've always been curious about how things work.

My earliest memory of this curiosity was when I was in 1st grade. We lived in Bangkok, Thailand, and I remember one night, after I was told to go to bed, I decided to take apart my favorite doll lamp to see how it worked. It was still plugged in at the time and I shocked myself. My parents ran into my room. I thought I'd be in trouble, but they just told me to unplug it next time, and to go to bed.

As I've been talking about getting kinds into science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), I was thinking about what got me interested in STEM and it came down to three people:

 

1. My Dad

My dad is the smartest man I know. He got his degree in Physics and as far back as I remember, I always wanted a degree in physics too. As a child, I'd watch him tinker with stuff he was building in his garage workshop and he would tell me how things worked. His workshop had, and still has, everything you can imagine. He has drawers and drawers of bolts and washers, and vacuum tubes, and car hoses, every wrench size (both in imperial and metric), and on and on. We joke that when Sears needs a tool, they call him. He has always liked taking things apart, fixing them, and putting them back together. I got that from him for sure.

When it came time for me to get a car at 16, that workshop and all those tools came in really handy. The picture at the top of this post is my first car. A 1977 Trans Am with a 6.6 Litre modified Pontiac 400 engine in it. To say it needed a little work would be an epic understatement. My father and I worked on it almost every weekend. We rebuilt the engine, twice. He wanted to make sure his daughters knew how to work on cars and change a flat.

Parents need to encourage kids to to be hands on, to learn how things work, to explore the amazing world they live in. Sure, working on cars really isn't a thing any more. Maybe instead of cars, today it's virtual reality (VR). Maybe dads today can explain to how VR works to their kids. Plus there are tons of everyday things to wonder about. Why is the sky blue? Why is sunset and sunrise red? Raleigh scattering, by the way. Encourage their questions. Help them find answers.

 

2. My Mom

"I think Jenny needs a little more confidence," said no one ever. I thank my mom for instilling confidence in me at a young age. She taught us to be true to yourself and not to care about what other people said or did. My mom is tough and persistent. She taught me to stand up for myself and that I could do anything I put my mind to.

She has called a senator to help figure out how to sponsor our Vietnamese family to come to the US. He called her back 30 minutes laters and the first of my aunts arrived 2 months later. Last week, she sent a message to Mark Zuckerburg to help her help a friend who forgot their Facebook password. He (or at least someone on his behalf) responded and her friend is happily back on Facebook now. Not bad for someone who's first language isn't English and who didn't grow up in the computer age.

She also taught me that you should keep learning new things. She is in her 70's and is still learning new things, especially on the computer. Although it sometimes means I have to play tech support, she uses PowerPoint, Photoshop, and a ton of other software. She has taught herself how to write music and play the keyboard. Her YouTube videos have thousands of views. We got her an iPhone last year and she quickly went from "I'll never use that" to iPhone tech support for all her friends.

When my sister and I figure skated, instead of sitting on the side watching like the other moms, she started skating too. And when she couldn't do a jump or spin, she would try again and again. Both she and my dad taught us that if you couldn't do something, you just needed to work harder at it. And when you could do it, you should keep working to make it better. This was often frustrating as a kid ("You got a 99% on the test, you should've studied more and gotten 100%."), but it taught me was that trying harder is how you achieve more.

Studies show that kids who believe that, through learning, practice, and hard work, they can become smarter and achieve more, outperform kids who believe their intelligence is fixed. How do kids get this growth mindset vs a fixed mindset? From how parents and teachers talk to them. What conversations are you having with your kids?

My mother didn't sugar coat things. We rarely were told that we were naturally good at something. Our successes were tied to the work we put into it. While not specifically STEM related, the lessons I learned from my mother allowed be to be confident as I pursued a predominantly male degree and later, industry.

 

3. My Physics Teacher, Mr Taylor

The first question on my first ever physics test was "Phyiscs is ____" I don't remember all the options, but the answer was "Phun". That physics was fun (or more specifically phun) was the first lesson we learned in Mr. Taylor's 11th grade physics class. I had him for physics my junior and senior year of high school and it was my favorite class.

He showed how physics was everywhere. The highlight of the class was going to Six Flags for the day and performing experiments on the rides. We measured the force in the loops on the Shockwave. We threw foam balls back and forth while spinning like a top on the Spindletop. We timed pennies as we dropped on the Cliffhanger. And we timed the period of the Conquistador.

I don't do physics experiments on roller coasters anymore but I still find physics fascinating.  

It's probably not a surprise that my parents and a teacher influenced my love of STEM, but the difference may be that they influenced me to love STEM in particular, because I am a woman. As a culture, we tend to encourage boys to pursue STEM, but not girls. I have plenty of friends who have sons interested in STEM, but their daughters are not. I wouldn't be surprised to find that they had different conversations with their sons than they did with their daughters, not on purpose, but out of habit.

Much to my parents dismay, I don't have children, but I do have a niece and 3 nephews. I try to incorporate my love of STEM in to conversations with whenever there is an opportunity, whether they realize it or not.