What A Nobel Prize Winner Taught Me About Courage

There’s a scene in one of greatest movies ever made, Braveheart, where the father says to his son in a dream,

“Your heart is free, have the courage to follow it.”

That scene reminds of an article about Yoshinori Ohsumi, a Japanese cell biologist, who won the Nobel Prize in the sciences this year (2016) for “discoveries on how cells recycle their content, a process known as autophagy.” I have no idea what that means, but it’s clear that Ohsumi is a genius.

Ohsumi is described as quiet, but “quietly daring.” This couldn’t be an ordinary man…  This description of someone who is quietly daring caught my attention so I read past the first paragraph, which says a lot.

As I continued reading, he explained some of the difficulties and challenges he faced at the beginning of his career. Ohsumi said, “Most people decide to work on the most popular field because they think that is the easiest way to get a paper published.” But he  did something different.

Ohsumi said,

“I am not very competitive, so I always look for a new subject to study, even if it is not so popular. If you start from some sort of basic, new observation, you will have plenty to work on.”

Did you catch what he did?

He intentionally did the opposite of what everyone else was doing.  Instead of going with flow he broke off and did his own thing.

This applies to life too.

At times it feels as if we’re being conditioned to be followers (like sheep) and find ourselves doing things only because everyone else is doing them.  Some people eventually stay on that path because it seems like the easiest and safest thing to do for success.

But Ohsumi shows us that the path of least resistance is filled boredom, competition, and routine.

It’s crazy to think that your path to success is the one with the least competition. But it makes sense. This is like that scene in “The Matrix” when the bald kid is bending a spoon with his mind.  Neo is completely shocked. The kid hands Neo the spoon and says, “Don’t try to bend the spoon. Instead, realize the truth.” “What truth?” Neo says.

Then the boy says,

“There is no spoon.”

Just like there is no spoon; there is no competition. In life, we’re really competing against ourselves. The goal is to be your greatest self, but it requires courage.

Had Ohsumi followed everyone else (the easier path), he wouldn’t have found his genius. His environment, resilience, and choices helped bring out the genius that was always in him, but it required quiet bravery to be comfortable with himself. It’s in that quietness that we can listen to what our life is telling us.

Doing your own thing will be harder, require more work, and will take longer than planned but do it anyways. Blaze your own trail. You weren’t put on this Earth to be a carbon copy of others; find your mission.

Learn from the greats, but have the courage to be quietly daring enough to be yourself. It’s like Dr. Seus said,

“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”