What you studied in school doesn’t matter as much as how you show up today.

Neil deGrasse Tyson is a lifelong scientist, scholar, and beloved public figure. His books popularized science and critical thinking, and his tweets are pretty sharp, too.

Tyson also has an account on Goodreads, a website and online forum about all things books. And to my surprise, he responds to fan questions from time to time.

“What advice do you have for aspiring astrophysicists?” asked glittery_bananas last fall. Fortunately for us, Tyson replied — and his takeaways are sage advice for any young professional.

Prioritize Expanding Your Mind

“Take the hardest classes you can possibly tolerate,” Tyson wrote, “even if you earn a slightly lower grade for doing so. While everyone else takes easy classes to boost their grades, you’ll be taking classes to boost your mind.”

It can be tempting to take the path of least resistance, particularly in school, where making the grade sometimes carries more priority than nurturing your skills. As Tyson noted, this approach will hold you back in the long run — especially in the workforce, where skills often trump grades and degrees.

Find Joy in Structure

“Math is the language of the universe,” Tyson suggested next. “Make sure there’s no shortage of that in your lineup.”

Too often, we think whitespace is what will give us the freedom to reach our goals. If you look at Olympic® athletes, professional musicians, or dedicated creators, the common denominators are consistency and process.

Structure creates freedom. When you have structure and stick to it, you see marginal gains that add up to big progress. Structure can feel challenging at first, but you acclimate over time.

Love the Journey

“Enjoy the learning,” Tyson said next. “There is no destination. There is no arrival. There is only the journey of discovery. If you do not like the journey, having been duped by the press into thinking that science is all about eureka discoveries they report in their headlines, then you’re in for a big disappointment.”

This is a big one. We often see people espouse their overnight successes online. This is so prevalent in advertising that it begins to shape what we think we want for ourselves.

The internet isn’t real life. It’s a highlight reel. Deliberate practice when no one is watching is a tried-and-true formula for success.

If you only relish the results, you’re in for a tough road ahead. Enjoy the journey, too.

Pursue Hard-Earned Victories

“The greater the struggle, the greater the reward — emotional and intellectual — when you succeed,” Tyson wrote.

It’s easy to check a box off on a task that takes two minutes. Although these wins produce small boosts of dopamine, the boosts are like candy — and too much candy isn’t good for you.

In contrast, reaching a goal you’ve been working on for a long time brings deep satisfaction. It also bolsters your confidence. When you prove to yourself you have what it takes to go the distance, you’ll be more willing to take on projects that both challenge and inspire you.

A Little Luck Helps, Too

“Good luck. We all need a little bit of that too,” Tyson concluded.

Let’s just admit it: some people get a lucky break and others don’t. You can position yourself for luck, though. When a window of opportunity opens up, you need some flexibility to go explore it. You need motivation. You need to be looking up, too, to see the window in the first place.

Maintain openness, and luck will have an easier time finding you.

Reignite Your Career Today

It’s never too late to reimagine or pivot your career. To review:

  1. Take challenging coursework, even if it means lower grades.
  2. Cultivate a love for structure and systems.
  3. The destination is what is shown, but the journey is what matters.
  4. Set big goals to build confidence.
  5. Luck isn’t within your control, but being open and available to new opportunities is.

Leverage the advice of one of today’s great thinkers and you’ll be well on your way to a better quality of life. ◆

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