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A Big Lesson from Nobel Prize Winner Katalin Karikó: Use the Difficulty

“After Shunning Scientist, University of Pennsylvania Celebrates Her Nobel Prize,” read the headline in the Wall Street Journal on October 4th. The article’s author, Gregory Zuckerman is, of course, referring to Katalin Karikó who, with fellow biochemist and researcher Drew Weissman, was awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine for helping lead to the mRNA vaccines that protected people around the world during the COVID pandemic.

Katalin Kariko meme advice

Shunned, disdained, demoted 4 times and often made to feel like a second-class citizen for her radical ideas and outspoken personality, this incredible badass, whose single-minded focus in pursuing a path she knew to be right, gave her the strength to plow through the heaving amounts of crap that were thrown at her.

Case in point: In 1995, she was given an ultimatum to leave Penn or be demoted and take a salary cut, which she accepted. “It left her feeling liberated, she later said, while giving her time to keep improving her mRNA techniques.” I applaud her positivity in the face of a system so flawed, it overlooks potential greatness.

Zuckerman goes on to say, “Once, while chatting with colleagues at a department Christmas party, a professor mentioned that Karikó was working for him on a project.

“You think I’m working for you?” Karikó asked him, livid, according to someone who witnessed the episode. “I’m here to advance science, I’m never, ever, working for you.”

BRAVO!!! How many times in your career have you thought to yourself, “I’m here to do a job, not serve your personal agenda, @hole!” …or words to that effect.

In yet another eye opening article for CNBC "Make It," writer Aditi Shrikant shines a light on Karikó’s indomitable spirit and no bullshit badassery, in what I found to be inspiring quotes like:

“Don’t focus on what you cannot change,” she says. “Because you are fired, don’t start to feel sorry for yourself. You just have to focus on what’s next because that’s what you can change.”

“You don’t have to hold a grudge against somebody, because it poisons you and the other person won’t even remember.”

“I felt successful when others considered me unsuccessful because I was in full control of what I was doing.”

Use the Difficulty

Nancy Mendelson hertelier unpack it

Karikó’s philosophy of life reminds me of a video interview I recently watched of award-winning actor, Sir Michael Caine, from 2002. He tells host, Sir Michael Parkinson that while rehearsing a play as a young actor, he was waiting behind the door of a set on stage as two actors playing husband and wife improvised a scene. Getting carried away, the couple started throwing things at each other. Caine went to open the door, but he found it jammed with a chair.

"I'm sorry, sir," said Caine. "I can't get in."

"What do you mean?" the other actor asked.

"There's a chair there," Caine explained.

"Use the difficulty!" The actor exclaimed.

"What do you mean?" Caine asked, confused.

"Well, if it's a comedy, fall over it," the actor explained. "If it's a drama, pick it up and smash it. Use the difficulty."



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