Inspiration and satisfaction

As a boy, I dreamed of building a sled. Now I build research papers.

When I was little, I wanted to build a sled. I envisioned an enclosed sled that glided along on three runners; I spent many evenings drawing a detailed steering mechanism, sketching a plan for the passenger capsule and carefully planning the sled's dimensions. I imagined how it would fly over the snow. I was sure I would build it, and I trembled with impatience to start. But it never came to be.

I had several boyhood projects that burned intensely in my imagination, but then faded in the light of reality. At the beginning of my graduate career, I was terrified that my research would have the same fate as those projects: burning inspirations that ultimately amounted to nothing as I moved on to my next idea.

Three years ago, when I learned that my first manuscript had been accepted, the excitement was electric. I had finally taken a moment of inspiration and followed it to completion. With each subsequent manuscript acceptance, I become more confident that I can in fact finish the projects that inspire me.

Today, looking at a recently published paper I co-authored, I think of the excited moments of inspiration that preceded it, as well as my year and a half of work, some of it tedious. My satisfaction on seeing the paper in print is worth much more than those transient inspirations.

As a boy, I avoided work in favour of the joy of inspiration; as a scientist, I've at last started to fully appreciate the final published product.

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Walcott, S. Inspiration and satisfaction. Nature 462, 683 (2009).

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