Up until recently, my career path was always related to science and after working for one year in research I wanted to continue in it. So you can imagine what a Nobel Prize meant to me, it was like the pinnacle, something that I had no idea if I could ever achieve.
To me Nobel laureates were the same as stars, or the big CEOs at Silicon Valley, what’s more, my work was based on part of his findings! So when I had the chance to speak with one on a one on one setting you can imagine how excited and nervous I was.
As clumsy as a teenage boy getting close to his first crush I approached him and asked if he had a few minutes. In my mind, I was already thinking that he would be some amazing individual and that he could answer any of the questions I had as easy as breathing. But I was wrong.
As I started speaking with him I did get the feeling that he had a lot of experience and I really respect him. Be it by how he treated me giving me the time even though I was only a master student starting in the field, and there were a lot of big shots waiting to speak with him, as well as by his breadth of knowledge.
Yet at the same time I couldn’t help but be a little bit disappointed, where was the wise star that I was expecting, where was the well of knowledge that I expected, he was just a really nice old man who knew about the field.
As I was feeling a little bit disappointed I also started understanding something, maybe one of the most important lesson I have ever learned.
In the end we are all humans.
This is really simplistic and might sound stupid, but how many times have we given superhuman qualities to people just because of the titles or achievements they have.
How many times have we used the excuse of, well but they are special, they are geniuses, they have something and I am just your average Joe.
But in fact, they might indeed be more intelligent but they are still humans, it’s not like it’s impossible for us to reach the heights they have reached, it’s not like there is no way to accomplish what we dream of accomplishing.
We are in fact getting in our own way, we are the ones limiting what we can accomplish. I don’t mean that you can get anywhere out of the blue, but rather that if you really want to achieve something and you work towards it, not by being the most hard-working one.
Not by being the most efficient one. But by being the more effective and working where you have to, I think that if we can do that, we can accomplish what we want.
The second most important lesson I learned from that short conversation is that the best skill to have is self-criticism. In the sense of being able to see how to improve, understanding which are the steps you need in order to accomplish something and how you are lacking now.
What you need to get there, how to do it, which are the parts that are getting in your way and how to improve them, the capacity to ask for feedback process it understands it and incorporates it.
Because even when speaking with someone 50 years his junior, Prof. Hubert asked me questions about how things worked when we spoke about new discoveries in my field, he listened attentively and tried to understand how it related to what he knew and which were the principles behind it.
He was at the top and yet he was still willing to listen, to learn and to improve, and I now believe that this is the most important skill to have.
The mentality knowing that you can always improve and the skill to be critical and always try to be a bit better than yesterday because this is the only way to reach your goal.
So that single meeting that didn’t even last 20 minutes at a congress where I was invited completely randomly, ended up changing my way of thinking and shaping this year and my future.
I thank Prof. Huber for that meeting and these lessons to a nameless master student even to this day.