The Rocket Scientist

“Well, it’s not rocket science.”

I’m more cautious now about using that expression.

My sister in law is, in fact, a rocket scientist.

I was moved by Sandra’s post about how and what our children learn.

I commented about my husband’s family and the constant criticism they experienced as children. It motivated them to levels of achievement that a more balanced upbringing might have denied them.

The best example of this is the only girl-child.

I’ll call her RocketScientistBecky.

Growing up with 3 brothers, Becky’s experience was quite a bit different. Their father dedicated himself to passing along his many skills to his sons.

He was a master electrician, plumber, welder in the early years. He then worked in glass research, receiving several patents for his inventions.

He was a skilled carpenter, auto mechanic, craftsman, hobbyist.

The 3 sons were the beneficiaries, spending their childhood building, tearing apart car engines, learning to use power tools, chemistry sets, microscopes.

And then there was Becky. She was very bright, but this was the early 1960’s. She was steered toward their mother; cooking, sewing, housekeeping, decorating, makeup and beauty tips…admirable skills, but not what caught her interest.

When she got to college, she chose Engineering, took a Master’s Degree, founded her own consulting company, with contracts to NASA. She found success in the very male-dominated space industry.

I once asked her about her choice of curriculum. In a joking voice, she said that she wanted to pick something that her mother knew nothing about…that she could not be corrected, criticized, told she could make something  “just a little bit better” if she did this or that.

It leads me to think about all of those high achievers and their motivation. We know so many scientists, innovators, movers and shakers who speak of overcoming obstacles.

And what would our world be without the tortured genius of artists, painters, writers, musicians whose early battles led to enduring, world-renowned creations ?

Can it happen without difficulties ? I don’t know of too many stories of great achievement that came as a result of loving, well-balanced life circumstance, or a trouble-free childhood.

I’m sure they are out there, I just don’t know of many.


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73 Responses to The Rocket Scientist

  1. Deb says:

    I think when one has to push and shove they get better motivation to do things. It is possible that because they had it so easy,when big achievements are made,they are not newsworthy.

  2. Fiona says:

    I think that you are right that there are people who have achieved great heights with the appropriate support and encouragement. I do think, though, that one’s person’s achievements and aspirations are their own. I think Becky’s experience is typical of that era and good on her to have followed her dream – for whatever reason. I, too, was constantly criticised and although I did my best, which was, theoretically, all that was required, I always got the sense that it was not enough. And people looking from the outside would say that I had all the love and support that I needed. Am I at the top of my game? Well, that depends on who answers the question. More to the point, I’m happy where I am, for the most part. Do I want to change things: yes and I’m working on that, and more of that in time. Perhaps the more important question for the rocket scientist is whether she’d do it all again, and whether it was worth it. I hope the she would, and it is. Food for thought, though, thank you, Van.

    • As they are thinking about retirement, it seems like they would do it all again. She brought her physicist husband into the business a few years ago. But it is so interesting to watch her interaction with the brothers and her mom. No matter what, she’ll always be that little sister. I think you touched on the important factor… the personal satisfaction, being happy where you are. ☺Thanks for sharing your experience here, Fiona. 💕

  3. C.E.Robinson says:

    Van, great thought-provoking post. Achievement without criticism or struggle? Wonder if there might be 10% oppotunity & encouragement somewhere that a person hangs onto to get ahead. Thinking back, criticism & encouragement was there as a child. What I accomplished as an adult was due to the 10%! Happy Sunday! 💛 Elizabeth

  4. I agree, challenges are what motivate us to be our best – great post! ❤
    Diana xo

  5. I believe that first of all, most of us lived in families with both strengths and weaknesses, and secondly, what we do with our gifts and our experience makes all the difference. We have choices. Your sister-in-law made excellent choices. She didn’t blame her family for her failures. She chose to excel and to exceed their expectations.

  6. There’s a lot of truth in this post, the suffering of Van Gogh, Plath and so many others.

  7. Just Plain Ol' Vic says:

    While adversity builds character, I would hope that my children become successful more due to a positive and supportive environment. I think there are times when I have to be critical about my children’s performance (or decision) but I try to make it constructive and positive. More than anything else, I have made it clear that I do not define success by money or title, rather passion.

  8. This is really incredible to read! We are all motivated by both positive and negative people. My daughter knew she wanted to be an engineer by 8th grade as a result of writing a report on chemical engineering. She went on to UCLA and became an Aerospace Engineer for Lockheed-Martin at age 22, with me (her then divorced mom) cheering all the way!

    • I’m always impressed by how far we’ve come, and how many options young folks have today, with no gender bias. So happy for your daughter, Terri. Much continued success in her career. 💖 Be very proud.

      • I am, thanks! My youngest finally graduated at age 28 with her degree in Recreation Therapy and applied with the State Psychiatric Hospitals. She ranked #1 and can apply any where in California. Even if young people get a rough start or change their minds, it can still happen!

      • That change of career can happen for some at just about any age, it seems. Thanks, Terri. 💖

  9. I think that you’re right and I also agree with Kitt; we have to make the choose to move on.
    Everyone gets a package of gifts and a package of liabilities.
    If we were raised in abusive households we have every reason to feel angry and cheated.
    But if we don’t get past that we are essentially making a choice to abuse ourselves.

  10. How interesting, Van. I know many people who are/were motivated by a need for parental approval, or by a need to overcome the obstacles in their lives. I hope as the wisdom of age takes over, every person has the opportunity to move beyond a desire for outside approval or a need to prove one’s worth, and instead makes fulfilling choices that lead to happiness.

    • How perfect it would be if we could satisfy all of those aspirations at once, Diana, but most of us would welcome happiness as the ultimate goal. Thanks for your insight. 💕

  11. TanGental says:

    Fascinating; I had no reason to criticise the way i was brought up yet i knew from however far back memory goes that my older brother was the bright one, the one with the fascinating hobbies. And I wasn’t. When did I consciously set out to be better than him academically? No idea but I did. We did different subjects right up to degree level, except maths which we both took to A level, I murdered him at maths. He was the first to praise me. He has not one competitive bone in his body. I went on to top out my law class, he just scraped through his zoology degree. He’s as happy as a pig in sh*t and me too. Funny old world.

    • The family dynamic is always fascinating to me, Geoff. How great that you had more praise from him than competition. You were fortunate. It didn’t matter to my 5 siblings what/how we achieved, we just all strove to be different from each other. In a big family, it was a bit shameful to copy another’s success. Thanks for sharing. 💖

  12. amommasview says:

    I guess those kids develop a “I’ll prove you” attitude that keeps them going… Great post, Van! Makes me wonder, though, if I’m making a mistake by not pressuring my children in such a way… But then… I know that they will find their way.

  13. Erika Kind says:

    That made me smile, Van! The motivation they have about what to learn is really interesting. My son is pretty much like that. He is very intelligent and loves to show us how much more he know about…. almost anything… but that is ok. I am glad he is so open!

  14. I think adversity brings out the better part of us. I think parents are meant to help their children discover who they are and not force them down paths that they feel they should take.

  15. lbeth1950 says:

    You are so right on this, as you usually are. When I was a kid, I knew my dad would have been so proud of my achievements if I had just been a boy. My brother was the designated “golden boy” but he never quite measured up either. He wasn’t athletically or academically gifted. He was a smart, boy who had to work at everything. I was smart but I wasn’t a boy. Then Daddy always thought I might turn out “trashy” if he didn’t watch me like a hawk.

    • So many sad things in that statement. You, for not being the achieving boy in the family (I can relate, so much changed in our family dynamic when that 4th attempt produced a son for my dad). But also for your brother, who didn’t live up to the pressure of being so “golden”. I guess we all survived it, though.💘 And, I can’t imagine you as “trashy”…he didn’t have to worry so much. ☺

  16. joey says:

    I am convinced the worst thing we can do to our daughters is tell them how pretty they are, to tell them to be nice, polite, quiet, to accept the status quo.
    I don’t care what any of my kids do, but academic success has always been a priority.
    I never felt I fit in with my parents, because of the whole math/ spatial/ engineering thing. But then I see that they gave me a good arts education — literal art, music, cooking, gardening… They all do needlework of some sort as well.
    I think my mother working in a ‘man’s field’ made her focus intently on my brain and my aptitude, instead of what was traditional. Of course, I live a very traditional life, and chose teaching (dramatically traditional for a woman) but her intent provided the bones for doing whatever I wanted. She might be sad that I didn’t become a motorcycle racer, or that I didn’t go to law school, but I could have if I’d wanted to.

    • You were lucky to have your mother’s perspective.Teaching & nursing were promoted as the “practical” option for college women. I had to fight my mother, whose attitude, based on her own frustration, was that I’d only get married and education would be wasted on me. sigh. Luckily, my father intervened. We have come a long way, but then again, we still have pageant moms. ☺ Thanks for sharing your experience, Joey. And “provided the bones”…a great phrase.

  17. I thought it was a great post as well! I am glad I saw the link on amommasview’s site!

  18. Sadie's Nest says:

    Interesting post van 🙂 I’ll have to digest this one for a minute. It’s true, I’ve heard many success stories driven by hardships and obstacles to overcome. Not to discredit all of the extraordinary and unknown moms who give up some of their “dreams” to make for a loving and stable environment for their children to flourish.

  19. Not every child can overcome the adversity of their youth and flourish. Everybody is wired differently. You can take one child and put them in a difficult family situation and they will rise above it to become a success. You can take another child and put them in exactly the same situation and it crushes their spirit and the struggle with making a way. What’s the difference? Nobody seems to understand that yet.

    The other thing is that many of the successful individuals who seem to be that way because of or in spite of their difficulties, have or had very troubled/turbulent personal lives and relationships. A lot ended up with screwed up kids and spouses/partners. It’s really a mixed bag I guess…

    Great post for stimulating the little gray cells Van!

    • I’ve seen that in my own birth family. Same dysfunction, different coping mechanisms. A lot had to do with timing, the younger sibs had access to a more prominent drug culture…that changed the dynamic completely. They emerged, but the struggle for them became a chemical one. Thanks for sharing your own gray matter here, AGMA. Always so welcome. ☺

  20. Lois says:

    You make a very convincing argument and I love the example of Becky. I have seen both examples, children who were neglected and lived in a home lacking parental involvement who became successful and fought to be better than the expectations others held for them. But I’ve also seen too many who fall into the trap of repeating the history of their own upbringing.

  21. Pingback: My Picks Of The Week #18 | A Momma's View

  22. Thumbup says:

    I would encourage girls to yell, kick and hit not to stay quiet and be respectful!

  23. nimi naren says:

    Truly thought provoking

  24. Krafty Fix says:

    I think like or not, being ‘comfortable’ isn’t particularly conducive to later changing the world. A strange paradox in many ways.

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