For over 25 years I was a cancer researcher. As a young scientist I wanted to understand what drove cancer cells to grow uncontrollably and I spent my career researching this. Ultimately, I wanted to develop a cure for cancer. I wasn’t naïve to think this would be quick nor easy to accomplish. However, I was unprepared for several things that impeded my success that now seem obvious in hindsight. What then are some of the necessary ingredients for success and achieving your goals


Experimental research is replete with failure. Without a doubt, throughout my career I spent far more time developing reagents and troubleshooting techniques or experiments in the lab figuring out why they weren’t working as designed; and far less time actually generating useful data that advanced my research. Obtaining meaningful experimental data took perseverance. It took grit. It took courage and resolve to keep going when I wanted to quit. This was never more relevant for me when I was Ph.D. student. I learned a critical lesson that often the difference between an experiment working or not was simply persevering and attempting it one more time. Fortunately for me, perseverance is one of my top strengths. However, I discovered that grit alone is insufficient for success.

Teams and Teamwork

As a school and university student, and later as an early-career scientist, I received multiple awards for high-achievement. I was a high-performer. I was smart, had a strong work ethic and had perseverance. I expected success was inevitable. Unfortunately for me, there was a big lesson I had yet to learn. I did not know how to create and much less lead a team. In fact, looking back I can confidently say I was pretty bad at it. In the competitive world of medical research, I was competing against teams of people essentially as an individual. Imagine going out to compete in the World Cup by yourself. It doesn’t matter how good you are as an individual, a team will beat you any day of the week and twice on Sunday. Rather than seek out advice, I struggled on naively by myself thinking all I have to do is work harder to figure things out and resolve my problems. Not surprisingly this didn’t work out too well for me and my career struggled along commensurately with my inability to lead. Thankfully the skills to lead and create teams can be learnt and I have spent several years discovering leadership and what it takes to be a great leader. Struggling years ago to cause teams around me was exactly the kick-start I needed to regenerate my career.

Get A Mentor

A major gap for me my entire career was the absence of a mentor. Making wise career choices about where to go or what to do next or how do I write a winning grant application would have profoundly increased my rate of success. Sure, I sought advice from colleagues; however, there is no substitute for meeting regularly with a powerful mentor whom you trust implicitly and is fully committed to your success. Receiving great advice at critical times from someone I trusted and respected would have made a massive difference to my career. I still needed to do the work but a mentor, would have saved me a lot of time getting from point A to point B. Ultimately, I would have had more success, sooner.

What are the gaps in your success? Do you persevere or give up at the first major hurdle? Do you tackle obstacles individually or cause a team around you to find solutions? Is your instinct to think, “what can I do” or “what can we do?” Do you have a trusted mentor? Perseverance alone is not sufficient; it is only one of many necessary elements for success.

Do you want purpose and happiness in your work? Contact me today for a complimentary discovery session to explore the value of 1:1 leadership coaching.