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Research in the Digital Age, Part 3: Dealing with Bad News

Sometimes research tells us something that completely derails our plans. This is discouraging, but it doesn’t have to be the end of our dreams. As with all forms of shock and grief, there are steps to recovery.

1. Make sure it’s really as bad as it seems.

Not everything that seems impossible actually is impossible. Double-checking impossibility isn’t about denying reality. You need to verify what’s a plan-killer and what’s just a big pain in the neck.

I had an obstacle that wasn’t to be overcome. I wanted to be a fighter pilot and worked hard to earn a military scholarship. But I learned that I had imperfect color vision. This is not a curable condition, and you don’t get to fly a billion-dollar jet with bad vision. I had to make a different life choice.

There are other physical issues that can end a career path, including height, weight, strength, pain tolerance, allergies, and general health. We may also have incompatible life goals, such as raising lots of children with love and care and pursuing a career that requires 80 hours of work a week. We might find we have no facility for speaking a foreign language or we’re tone deaf.

But some obstacles out there only seem insurmountable. Start-up capital may be possible to acquire through a grant or micro-loan. On-the-job training with no experience may be possible through an internship or apprenticeship. “Not knowing anybody” may be solved through online social networking.

So, is what you learn from your research really a deal-breaker, or it is something you can overcome with time and effort?

2. If it’s really that bad, accept reality.

Just as you don’t want to give up when you don’t have to, you need to watch out for not giving up when you should. Sometimes, we just have to swallow that bitter pill and cut our losses.

This may involve a period of mourning. If you’re giving up on a childhood dream, don’t expect it to get over it in an afternoon. But don’t let the grief completely discourage you, either.

As soon as you can, get back into your research and look for alternatives. Accept that the first version of what you wanted isn’t going to happen, and then you can start over and make new decisions.

3. Get out of your head and talk to others.

As we’ve discussed before, our brain is not always our best friend. Negative thoughts wait to pounce on us all, and a research-based setback is an invitation for every “You’re no good” impulse you’ve ever had.

So don’t listen to your brain for a while. Talk with others, especially people with experience in the general fields of your interests, and let them challenge your thinking. Be open to their ideas about ways to tackle challenges (while keeping an eye out for schemes and scams), and if what you’ve learned from research doesn’t match the experiences of those in the field, do the work necessary to find out who’s right.

Remember that research is often excellently done, but outdated. Even the best, most authoritative research into weight control twenty years ago got at least half of it wrong. Indeed, exercise and fitness books from the ‘70s now read like a list of what not to do.

Be open, discuss, and listen to others’ feedback. Then take that information back to your research with the goal of understanding things more fully, including that there are many possible outcomes based on all manner of variables.