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What If …

“What if we gave up being attached to a certain outcome and just let it be – not worrying about how things might or might not turn out – even accepting that there might not be a resolution – and lived in the open space of today, this moment, right now with lightness and joy?”      – Cathy Q. Bailey

How to Forget the Experts and Listen to Your Own Voice

“A Mindful Leadership Story by Sonya Legg, Ph.D.”

“Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm, and harmony.” – Thomas Merton

When I started my freshman year at Oxford University, I was excited to major in physics and participate in many different extra-curricular activities. However, I quickly learned that others, including my physics professor, had different ideas about how I should be spending my time. At the start of the year, my professor asked me what I did with my free time and I replied that I enjoyed may activities like rowing, running, and singing in the choir. Little did I know that we had different ideas around the importance of balance and enrichment beyond academics.

Shortly after that conversation, I attended a meeting with my professor and the dean and realized that naively, I had over shared. The professor talked with the dean as if I weren’t in the room, saying something like, “Sonya has a real attitude problem and needs to focus on her work. If she wants to succeed she is going to have to devote herself to physics, and only physics.” He then turned to me and said, “So Sonya, what do you have to say for yourself?”  Feeling betrayed and caught off guard, I was unable to answer his question.

I left the meeting feeling deflated, moped around a bit, and even contemplated dropping out of Oxford. But thankfully a good friend encouraged me to continue, telling me “have the courage to be who you are.” And in the end, that’s what I did. It occurred to me that my supposed mentor, my physics professor, was quite narrow-minded. Fortunately, for me, my first term final exam results proved him wrong and I excelled.

The most important lesson I learned during college was that if I did not take time to renew and enjoy non-academic activities, I risked burning out and not feeling motivated enough to excel academically. Despite my professor’s best efforts, I rebelled against his idea of being a “true scientist” and have not looked back. I’m still running, singing in a choir, and enjoying the fun activities that help me manage stress, gain perspective, and show up grounded.

Over the years, I have found that one of the best ways to solve a challenging scientific problem is to go for a run, clear my mind, and let things sort themselves out. Now that I am an established professor and scientist, I have the opportunity to encourage students, both men and women, to take time out, explore, and lead balanced lives. I am also proud to say that my husband and I are raising two daughters, who are not only thriving academically, but also growing as well rounded people as they explore the outdoors, play their musical instruments, and enjoy cultural activities.

 

Sonya Allayne Legg earned a PhD in Dynamical meteorology and oceanography from Imperial College, UK and a BA in Physics with first class honors from Oxford University, UK. She currently works at Princeton University as the Associate Director of the Cooperative Institute for Climate Science and a Research Oceanographer in the Program in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences.

Sonya is passionate about mentoring women scientists and is involved in PWiGs (Princeton Women in Geosciences) at Princeton University and a co-leader of MPOWIR (Mentoring Physical Oceanography Women to Increase Retention, a nationwide mentoring program). She enjoys spending time with her husband and two daughters as well as gardening, singing, running, and traveling. Sonya’s most recent accomplishment includes training for and completing the Princeton half marathon.

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