The Big Question

What’s the Hardest Lesson You’ve Learned?
Illustration by Matt Laumann Stephen Brighton Associate Professor, Director of Undergraduate Studies and Honors Director, Department of Anthropology The hardest lesson I am learning is to be myself. This may seem like a simplistic, if not cliché, answer, but it is perhaps the most difficult thing to attempt. In each individual, there are many “selves” but at the core, there forms the true “self.” Staying true to that self is fraught with struggle and conflict, but one has to be comfortable in his or her own skin and be able to succeed and fail with equal measures humility and confidence. It is not so much a task to complete but rather a mantra to practice in everyday life.
Bryan Butler Principal Agent, University of Maryland Extension Little victories are all you need. We all want to achieve great things and be recognized for them. But reaching constantly for the fruit on the highest branch can cause you to fall out of the tree.
Joel Chan Assistant Professor, College of Information Studies As an introvert and nerd at heart, “networking” used to be a dirty word for me. I believed I should and could focus on my own work without worrying about what others think or how to communicate my ideas. In fact, feedback and iteration are the lifeblood of creativity, and networking is an incredibly rich source of those ingredients. (For tips on this, I recommend the classic “Networking on the Network” by Phil Agre, which frames networking as community-building.)
Paul Goeringer Legal Specialist, University of Maryland Extension Be willing to say, “I don't know.” I get up and speak to a large number of folks across the state each year and I am a lawyer. I often get asked random legal questions that I don’t know the answer to and had to learn the hard way to be willing to say, “I don't know, but talk to me afterward and I'll get back with you.” When you first graduate and start a job, you think you should know everything. But in reality, you will not, so being willing to accept this early on was a hard thing for me to understand and appreciate.
Renee Hill Senior Lecturer & Director, School Library Specialization, College of Information Studies The hardest (and saddest) lesson I've learned has implications for both my professional and personal life. I'd honestly thought that once I was done with formal education and fully entrenched in “adulting,” witnessing or being subjected to rudeness, bullying, and avoidance of responsibility in professional situations and social events would be things of the past. Unfortunately, I've had to reluctantly accept that these types of behaviors and attitudes are just as likely to occur among people who are 30+ as they are with people who are 13.
Axel Krieger Assistant Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering Good ideas will persevere. While rejections from journals and funding sources, criticism from paper reviewers, and failures in initial research can be paralyzing and create the need to chase other projects, sticking to good ideas and relentlessly pursuing them often leads to the biggest successes.
Jianghong Meng Professor and Director, Joint Institute for Food Safety & Applied Nutrition, and Center for Food Safety & Security Systems Having worked on food safety for a long time, I thought I knew a lot about the safety of food until my entire family was poisoned by mushrooms. Wild mushrooms often look pretty, and there are so many kinds that look alike. But some are extremely dangerous and can be lethal. This reminds us that you want to be careful about what you enjoy as food, particularly when you travel and are not familiar with local food.
Lisa A. Taneyhill Associate Professor, Department of Animal and Avian Sciences It’s okay to ask for help. In my experience, working women (especially those with kids) don’t often ask for help. We think that we should be able to do it all—to be that superwoman who successfully juggles every curveball that life throws, completely on our own—because asking for help can be perceived as a sign of weakness. In reality, the woman who has it all achieves this because she has built a village, comprised of her spouse, partner, family, friends and/or others, who help her in numerous ways to be her best self. Asking for help is smart and strategic, not weak. Share your answer or suggest a future question in the Comments section.


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