What Lab Glassware Taught Me About Community

As a graduate student working in a research lab, I quickly came to appreciate the person who washed and prepared the glassware. If we ran out of clean graduated cylinders, beakers, and flasks, all the experiments for the day would need to be put on hold. Furthermore, we had to place our trust in the person who prepared the glassware. Any soap residue left behind could ruin an experiment. If the flasks were not sterilized properly, our results would be skewed. The lady who prepared our glassware was a member of our research team, and her work was no less important than ours. My scientific adviser taught us to respect all team members by inviting everyone to laboratory social events.

In the laboratory or in the church, there are no unimportant people. Everyone is a vital member of the team. The key to appreciating the unique contributions made by each person is a little dose of humility. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves (Philippians 2:3). Humility purifies my motives, helping me look beyond myself to the needs of others. Humility teaches me to share credit with others on the team and acknowledge their perspective. Humility produces a realistic view of life, showing me my role within a given organization is vital but time-limited. Knowing I will someday yield my role to another motivates me to teach and train those who will take my place.

When I am able to honor people for their contributions within a workplace or church community (Romans 12:10), I gain the freedom to learn from them, and I feel less pressure to pretend to be someone I am not. Celebrating another person’s success does not diminish the value of my own work on the team. Instead, acknowledging the achievements of others motivates me to do my part with greater excellence.

Key Concepts to Tweet

  • In the workplace or in the church, there are no unimportant people.  Buffer
  • When I am able to honor people for their contributions, I gain the freedom to learn from them.  Buffer
  • Celebrating another person’s success does not diminish the value of my own work on the team.  Buffer

Blip or Trend?

At some point in every relationship and along every path to a goal, something goes wrong. A friend disappoints you. A partner is insensitive. You are disillusioned by how a teacher, coach, or church leader handles a situation. You experience a setback. You make a careless mistake. You skip your morning run and choose a double fudge sundae for an afternoon snack. The moment is forever gone; the words cannot be unspoken; and the regret begins.

You cannot undo your choice or rewind your circumstances. Your failed midterm will never magically be given an “A”. In all likelihood, your former boss will not hire you back. However, you have a new choice to make. You get to decide whether this moment in your life remains a blip or becomes a trend.

Choosing Your Future

About five years ago, I learned the concept of the “blip” from a friend who worked as Director of Human Resources for a large bank. He said that a person who loses his job at the bank must decide if this event is a “blip” or the beginning of a career downslide. If the ex-employee is willing to learn the necessary lesson from the unpleasant experience, the event becomes a blip. If the person goes on to the next job with the lesson unlearned, history can repeat itself again, slowly derailing the person’s professional life. Finally, if the person learns his lesson but becomes too demoralized by the experience, the person may never regain his former career trajectory.

Graphing Your Life

A “blip” refers to a point at which a line on a graph makes a sharp change of direction before returning to its original course. A trend is a long-range change in a certain direction. In other words, one argument does not need to create permanent conflict. One double fudge sundae does not necessarily mean the end of a person’s diet. You can lose a battle and go on to win the war.

Marriages that go the distance happen because a husband and wife decide to turn setbacks, disagreements, and stressful events into blips, not trends. People who attend the same church for years do the same within their faith communities. Successful businesses surmount a bad quarter to turn a profit over time. History teaches that individuals who make their mark on society persevere past the quitting point for everyone else.

Clearing the Hurdles

Jonas Salk, the University of Pittsburgh researcher who developed the first safe and effective polio vaccine, had to clear several hurdles before he led his own laboratory. Three institutions turned him down before the dean of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine offered him a lab. However, when he arrived in Pittsburgh, Salk quickly discovered that the lab was in a cramped basement location of an old building with no laboratory equipment. Yet Salk found funding from the Mellon family, a wealthy and influential family in Pittsburgh.  He turned the cramped basement into a working virology laboratory and went on to develop a vaccine for the worst disease of the postwar era. The rejections became blips and Jonas Salk became a household name.

The next time your faith is shaken through challenging circumstances or frustrating encounters with difficult people, remember Jonas Salk. Choose to make your momentary problem a blip. Even if justified, reject the impulse to wallow in your frustrations, turn away from relationships, and become cynical. Instead, question your doubts, re-engage people productively, and get back in the game.

Key Concepts to Tweet

  • You can lose a battle and go on to win the war.  Buffer
  • Choose to make your momentary problem a blip.  Buffer