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Do as Jonathan Livingston the Gull did, fly on your own

Author: Bérénice Kimpe

Have you ever read "Jonathan Livingstone the Gull", Richard Bach's tale about boldness and freedom? It is the story of a seagull that is convinced that it can do something other than what it is intended to do. It will never stop pushing its limits to continue to progress and above all find its way.

Beyond a simple summer reading, Jonathan’s story is a pretty tale about personal development, as you will see.


Taking on bold[1] choices means knowing how to deal with the misunderstanding of others

Unlike his fellows who only fly to get food, in accordance with their status as gulls, Jonathan decides to fly for pleasure as well, seeking to be the fastest. His own parents do not understand him and ask him to join the ranks. His attitude is surprising, even disturbing, within his community, which soon excludes him.

There are two main reasons for this: on the one hand, we often fear people who do things that we ourselves couldn’t do; on the other hand, people have a certain idea of who you are, they expect you to behave in a way that corresponds to the image they have of you.

For example, you are a PhD, so you can only be a researcher, because if not, what is the point of doing research training if it is to do something completely different?

Perhaps you have already faced this type of remark from those around you (family, friends, colleagues...). But it is forgetting that the doctorate is also a training through research that allows you to develop very useful know-how and interpersonal skills in professional contexts other than research.

For sure, you have already had to make bold choices: leave (public) research, refuse a job offer when you have been looking for a job for six months, commit to a doctorate when you could have obtained a position directly after your master's degree or when you have been in professional activity for several years, choose a career path other than that desired by your parents who imagine you taking over... It is not easy especially when your family and friends put pressure on you by trying to influence you, make you change your mind. Hence the importance of taking responsibility for your choices. This is not about justifying yourself because in justification there is guilt, as if you have done something wrong by saying "no". You do nothing wrong, quite the contrary: you only listen to yourself and make choices that are consistent with yourself. Taking responsibility for your choices means knowing why you make them.


Denying your identity will make you unhappy

After his failed dive attempts, Jonathan gave up and tried to do what other gulls do, to conform to what was expected of him: "I must be content to be what I am, that is, a poor, narrow-minded gull”. But very quickly, he realizes that he can't do it and that he is unhappy trying to behave like the others. Until a voice deep inside him made him return to his desires, flying at high speed and searching for meaning in what he does.

Adapting to a person, to a situation, is good and we expect flexibility from you. Adapting too much, to the point of wanting to look like the image others have of you so as not to disappoint them, is risky. Denying who you are for the benefit of others means accepting the fact that you would not be worth as much as others, that others could not accept you for who you are. It also means denying your values, your motivations, your desires, your emotions. You will soon feel frustration and the feeling of missing something more real, more authentic.

Listen to your aspirations and do not compromise on the most important ones. Don't be afraid either to show your professional ambitions with objectives that are challenging for you, if that's what you really want and if they are consistent with the missions of your job. Be yourself, be authentic and your value will be recognized (even if we can't please everyone!).


To dare is to free yourself from your own limits

If Jonathan felt limited by his peers at first, he quickly freed himself from it to be able to live his passion for speed and satisfy his thirst for learning. His progression curve accelerated as he became aware of his own limitations in both mind and body. This is the key message he will convey to young gulls: "Break the chains of your thoughts and you will also break the chains that hold your body prisoner. »

Like Jonathan, we have built ourselves in relation to our environment, our surroundings, our education, our experiences... Sometimes these influencing factors can condition us to the point of altering the perception we can have of ourselves and others, of limiting ourselves in our actions. This will result in repetitive behaviours, of which we are aware or not: the feeling that everyone gathers against us every time we want to change our situation, the fact of always finding "good" excuses for not acting, the propensity to go against our real needs and desires...

As long as we are in our comfort zone, safe in our usual environment, our potential limitations have no effect - even if we may wonder if they would not have led us to our current situation in the end. These limitations only become apparent when we are about to take risks in order to change our situation.

Life often requires us to make choices that we can consider "at risk" depending on the issues they involve. Vocational guidance is one of them: not easy to leave one professional identity to develop another; not easy to leave job security to create one's own business without being sure of its sustainability.

As a PhD, you may be wondering about your ability to leave the academic sector and your legitimacy to join the private sector. But if others have done it before you, why not you? "Yes, but they didn't do a postdoc, they did an additional MBA-type training, they did an engineering school before, they did an industrial thesis...": are these the arguments you have in mind to hinder the achievement of your professional goal?

First of all, accept to be who you are. And rather than looking for what others have more than you, focus on what makes you who you are: your personality, your experience, your skills and your network.

Do you have any doubts about the value of having you on a team? Ask those around you how they perceive you, what values you embody.

Do you think that your experience is not enough, that you do not have enough skills? Be aware that the experience is not limited to salaried experiences, you can use your volunteer activities to illustrate certain abilities. Perhaps it is also related to the way you present it: is your research experience presented in a purely academic way or is it likely to attract the attention of a recruiter by focusing, for example, on its impact or on project management? As for skills, take the time to list for each of your experiences the skills and qualities you have demonstrated to carry out each of your actions. You will soon find that your experience as a researcher is not limited to lab techniques.


Becoming Jonathan Livingstone is not simple but remains within everyone's reach: the difference between Jonathan Livingstone and others is that "they have begun to understand what they really are and have begun to practice it". Be yourself and be consistent with your own capabilities!

[1] Boldness: willingness to take risks and act innovatively