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How To Become An Unstoppable PhD (Cheeky Scientist Radio)

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Skip ahead to:
8:48 – Show Me the Data
30:42 – How To Become An Unstoppable PhD w/Ruben Gonzalez
1:00:20 – Overcoming Imposter Syndrome In Business w/Aja Isble

Does your job search fill you with anxiety that you don’t know how to handle?

Ready to find the courage needed to overcome your career challenges? 

In this episode of Cheeky Scientist Radio, Ruben Gonzalez, a 4-time Olympian and author of The Courage to Succeed lays out strategies you can use to overcome the anxiety associated with changing your path, setting large goals and ultimately achieving them. Then, we have on Aja Isble, M.B.A. who discusses how you can overcome imposter syndrome and truly see yourself as an industry professional.

About Our Guests

Ruben Gonzalez is a four-time Olympian, award-winning keynote speaker, and bestselling author of The Courage To Succeed. He is the first person to ever compete in 4 Winter Olympics in 4 different decades. He has spoken for over 100 of the Fortune 500 companies since 2002, appeared on ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, CNN, the New York Times, Success Magazine, Time, BusinessWeek and Forbes and been Featured in 3 chapters of Jack Canfield’s book, “The Success Principles”.

In Ruben’s own words, “My story takes people’s excuses away. I was a benchwarmer in school sports. When I was 21 I took up the sport of luge with a dream to compete in the Olympics. Four years and a few broken bones later I made it. I went on to compete in Winter Olympics in four different decades. I’ll help your people face their fears so they can be the best they can be. My Fortune 500 clients will tell you that after my presentations, their people were inspired and equipped to think differently, to take immediate action and to produce better results.”

Aja Davis Isble completed her M.Sc. in Pathology from the University of Iowa and obtained her MBA from Darden Graduate School of Business Admin, a Top 10 US MBA Program. She has over 10 years experience working in sales and marketing at Amgen, and in new product and strategy roles at Baxter, Baxalta, Shire. Aja recently accepted a position as Director, New Product Planning, Gastroenterology at Takeda.

Key Takeaways

1. It’s essential to connect with your why. Because if you have no desire and no belief in yourself there will be no action. 

2. Develop your emotional intelligence, motivation, and ability in order to use anxiety as a benefit not a hindrance.

3. Write down your goal. It doesn’t have to be a dissertation. But the act of writing it down is an act of commitment that drives it into the subconscious mind.

More About This Show

Today’s show is about overcoming challenges and overcoming anxiety to achieve your goals – especially your career goals. Ruben Gonzalez, a 4-time Olympian on with us talks about his book The Courage to Succeed which breaks down the psychological and situational challenges you’re likely facing as you try to change careers or transform yourself from an academic into a business professional. Ruben lays out strategies for overcoming the anxiety associated with changing your path, setting large goals and achieving them.

Aja Isble, an MBA working as a director at Takeda Pharmaceuticals comes on with us to discuss how you can overcome imposter syndrome and the anxiety that you have about seeing yourself as a business professional. She dives into how PhDs can learn to communicate better and speak the language of business.

Anxiety Is Normal And It Can Actually Help You.

Anxiety is normal worldwide no matter what country or culture you’re from, people deal with this emotion. A survey from the World Health Organization looked at the percentage of people diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and found that all around the world between 10-23% of people have been diagnosed with anxiety.  

So lots and lots of people are experiencing anxiety. And most commonly anxiety is considered a bad thing that impairs performance. But does anxiety have to be a bad thing?

Research published in the Journal of Applied Psychology looked at how dispositional and situational workplace anxiety can exert both negative and positive affects on job performance. 

Dispositional anxiety is trait based and it varies from person to person. It  basically refers to your own personal baseline anxiety level. On the other hand, situational anxiety is dependent on the circumstance you find yourself in. Circumstances like a job interview, performance review, business meeting or a sales presentation. Each of these different kinds of situations will cause different levels of anxiety in different people.

But the key part of this paper, that is relevant to you, is that there are specific things you can do to use your anxiety as a positive thing. Things you can do to use your anxiety to propel you forward, not impair you.

The three traits that contribute to whether you experience anxiety inhibitory or beneficial are: emotional intelligence, motivation, and ability. By developing those three traits you can learn to harness your anxiety to you benefit instead of your detriment.

How To Become An Unstoppable PhD: A Conversation with Ruben Gonzalez 

Isaiah: We brought Ruben on the show because performing at the highest level, no matter whether it’s as a PhD or in the Olympics, requires you to overcome a lot of internal battles and a lot of external struggles. And so Ruben, I’m sure you have experienced a lot of uncertainty, a lot of what we call imposter syndrome when you first decided to become an Olympian. What was going through your mind during that time? Why did you decide to become an Olympian?

Ruben: When I was 10 years old I saw the Olympics for the first time on TV and I was hooked. And what drew me to the Olympians, it wasn’t the athletic side, it was their character. I thought, ‘Wow. This is a group of people that have a dream. They’re willing to fight and train for years and years and years with no guarantees for success and they make it.’ I thought, ‘Man you gotta be so strong inside to do that. I just wanted to be like them.’ It was never about the medals for me. It was about I want to be one of those guys.

I didn’t take any action for 11 years and then when I was 21 years old,  watching the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympic games, I see Scott Hamilton the figure skater, he was 18 years old then. He weighed like 110 pounds soaking wet and he wins the gold medal and he gave me hope right? I thought, ‘Man if that little guy can do it I can too.’

I’m gonna be in the next Olympics no matter what. It’s a done deal, I just gotta find a sport. All of a sudden I had belief. Before I had desire, no belief, no action. Now I got belief, I’m ready to take action.

So I went to the library to get this big book about the Olympics, I had to find a sport. As I was looking through the list of the winter sports the analytical side of my brain kicked in. I thought, ‘I’m about to put together a plan for the next 40 years. It probably makes sense to base the plan on my strengths.’ My strength is perseverance, my nickname in school was Bulldog. So I decided I’m gonna find a sport with a lot of broken bones. A sport that looks so hard there’d be a lot of quitters. Only I won’t quit. 

Isaiah: Was there a time that you experienced imposter syndrome?

Ruben: Yes, when I was in a World Cup race. I’m knew I was gonna have to race for the next two years to see whether I make it to the Olympics. Now, imagine You’re a 16 year old kid, you’ve just got your drivers permit and you’re finally to the point where you’re not hitting the curb all the time. and all of a sudden, you’re put into the Indy 500 and you’re in a room with Al Unser, Mario Andretti and a bunch of icons. You feel like you don’t belong.

that’s how I felt at the World Cup race. I felt like I couldn’t look at ’em in the eye. I had all this mental thing telling me, “What the hell am I doin’ here? I don’t belong here.” I mean this is ridiculous, but I knew I was just putting my head down, I just gotta focus on those points. I’ve gotta get another World Cup Point. I’ve gotta get another one, I gotta get another one. And I just focused on that instead of the doubt.

Mary: When you were asking people to give endorsements for your book, you were reaching out to a lot of people. This is similar to cold calling when PhD’s are looking for industry positions. We have to get in touch with people we don’t know but that we are really eager to learn from. So can you tell us a bit about how you reached out to people, how you cold called?

Ruben: Right before the Salt Lake City Olympics this little kid in my neighborhood asked me to be his show and tell project in school. And so when I came back from the Olympics I took the sled, the Olympic torch, the helmet ready for show and tell. But the principle takes me to the cafeteria. There’s 200 kids sitting there. He said, “You got 45 minutes. Have at it.” They turned it into an assembly. They didn’t tell me

In the end, it went really well. The principle said, “Man you got a gift, you should do this for a living. You’re better than the people we pay!” And I said, “You pay for show and tell?” He said, “No, it’s a speaking profession man. Don’t you know anything?”

And apparently I didn’t but I was a copier salesman and he was so in my face about it and I was having fun out there, I was telling my story. Maybe I can inspire some people to really go for it.

I quit my job three days later.

I figured if I can sell a copier I can sell a Ruben too and I started calling all the schools in Houston. The principle, the president of the PTA, the counselor, follow up with faxes, emails, massive action right? You throw enough mud on the wall and some of it’s gonna stick right? You can always clean up the mess later.

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome In Business: A Conversation With Aja Isble

Isaiah: I want to dig in first to the anxiety, think back to when you were moving from position to position in industry, when the business was changing. What did those times feel like for you and then what sort of internal and external resources do you call upon to get through them?

Aja: First of all I’ll just say you guys can’t control everything as much as you might want to. You can only control your own emotions and I guess the dispositional anxiety. And the way that I have through the course of my career handled some of that is realizing that actually the situational stress does impact my individual stress quite a bit. But if I have a good sense of forecasting what those situations might be, that makes me feel less anxious about them.

So, again, I can’t control what’s happening outside, but if I can foresee or anticipate what’s happening outside, then I start to create a plan and anticipate what those changes are and I’m lining up my options all along the way.

Isaiah: Can you talk a little bit more practically about what that looks like? Is there a key question you tell yourself?

AjaIt’s about how you interact with other people and then ensuring that you have your tribe kind of around you to help you out when there is a period of extreme stress or a massive change. So, I can control how I interact with people, my relationships, my mentor relationships in particular. Right? And making sure that I’m maintaining that over time.

So, in massive kind of stress points, I turn to my people, I turn to my circle, and I ask questions and I start to kind of look outside of myself. The points when I start to feel most stressed are the times where I start looking outward most because I know myself and I know that if I allow myself to succumb to that stress, I can get very internally focused and that’s not helpful. That actually leads to more stress. You gotta look out for that help and you gotta turn to some other people to gain perspective right? Because you kinda lose perspective in real moments of stress.

Listen to the full podcast episode to get even more insight into: How Ruben became a 4-time Olympian, how you can apply those same strategies to your job search and much more.

To get advanced access to the full length versions of these podcasts, as well as access to our live training webinars, exclusive training videos, case studies, industry insider documents, transition plan, and private online network, get on the waitlist for the Cheeky Scientist Association now.

Isaiah Hankel Ph.D.

Isaiah Hankel Ph.D.

Isaiah is a Ph.D. in Anatomy & Cell Biology and internationally recognized Fortune 500 consultant. He is an expert in the biotechnology industry and specializes in helping people transition into cutting-edge career tracks.

Isaiah believes that if you feel stuck somewhere in your life right now, you should make a change. Don’t sit still and wait for the world to tell you what to do. Start a new project. Build your own business. Take action. Experimentation is the best teacher.
Isaiah Hankel Ph.D.