I believe in backup. I believe that when you know someone has your back covered you can do great things. Backup properly expressed, lets your loved ones, and your charges know that you are right there, unobtrusive, but present and that you have them covered.
Backup is essential to humanity and to being human. It is a way of saying, “hey, I have some experience, I’ve seen some things, and I will lend my support to encourage you if and when you might need it. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the root of encourage is courage.
My belief in backup and the positive feeling I get when I give backup played a big part in my choice of a job. I’m a research scientist; specifically I’m an assistant professor of genetics at the University of Toronto. Every day I go to work, sometimes with my dog (my portable, always-on backup system) and I take a walk through the lab and then settle in the office. Each day follows a similar pattern, but the details are always different, always a challenge. The most common occurrence that demands immediate backup is when a student comes in as says, “Corey, my experiment didn’t work, and I don’t know why”.
This may come as a surprise to some, but most of the time our experiments fail, probably 95% of the time, maybe more. Even when they do work, you usually don’t get the result you expected. This is not a bad thing, it keeps us honest, I mean, if our experiments always worked, we’d have it all figured out by now. This constant, daily failure fest requires a lot of backup and I like to think I help my students experience failure, regroup and press on.
Of all my role models, my grandpa taught me best about backup. To him, backup was about asking a million questions, sometimes to the point of exhaustion (for me, never for him), and then following these questions with a heap of encouragement. Grandpa always pressed me to take risks, his criteria were simple, and will this be a challenge? Will it make you happy? And are you scared? If all three were true, I did not have a choice, the risk was like a mountain that had to be climbed. And I knew when I took a risk he would be there if I needed backup. This drove my parents crazy, as I was always changing jobs, moving to new cities, or both. It seemed as if I was never satisfied. I wasn’t and I’m still not. Part of the reason for my peregrinations is my curiosity; part of it is my brain chemistry. But even when my depression progresses to despair and choices seem just too hard, knowing I have backup saves me, and continues to save me daily.
It probably seems obvious, but I believe that knowing that someone has your back makes all the difference.