Reading a textbook about scientific discoveries is such a cleaned up, simplified version of what happened that it’s hardly even the truth anymore. It boils someone’s career into a sentence, making that person into an achievement, not a person. However, when one reads an account of what happened by the scientists themselves, it’s a whole different story. That person becomes a person, not just a name and an achievement. And that achievement becomes no longer theirs.
All those brilliant minds that came up with brilliant ideas seem so far away when reading about them in a textbook. It makes them seem superhuman and makes you feel like crap, like there’s no way you can do anything like that. Well, stop feeling bad because these people are not achieving alone. Sure the one specific achievement is theirs, but they could not do it without those surrounding them. Take Watson and Crick, the scientists who unraveled DNA’s structure. Without Rosalind Franklin, Maurice Wilkins, Chargaff, and others, they would not have been able to figure out DNA’s structure. They had others check their chemical bonds, they used the x-ray pictures taken by other people, and the competitive desire to beat Pauling at Cal Tech to the punch helped them to do it. They’re not superhuman achievers to the degree that textbooks make them look. They’re ordinary people working in a network that produces extraordinary things.
Don’t get it in your head that these awesome achievers are the ideal kind of person to strive after either. Have you ever met someone who you thought was really cool only to discover that they were not? For those of you that have, I’m sorry. It can be a jarring, traumatizing experience, depending on your level of hero worship. A relatively mild example of mine was that I had this professor that I thought was the coolest guy. He was a great teacher and made the class really fun. Later that semester, I saw him from a distance, smoking a cigarette outside of a restaurant by campus. It bothered me to see him smoking and he actually seemed less cool to me after that. It was a reality check. For those of you who have not had that experience, consider yourself lucky. But I learned from that. No one is perfect. Everyone has flaws. Everyone. So don’t feel bad about yours.
The moral of the story is work for your dreams, reach for the stars, and go for it. Those that achieved crazy things are just people like you and me. Don’t put them up on so high a pedestal that you don’t think you can’t reach the top yourselves. This is not to belittle their achievement, but if that person had never lived, someone else probably would have achieved it or figured it out eventually. No more fear. No more hero worship. Just do it.