A Negative Finding is Still a Finding

Recently I had an experience where I was really excited about an opportunity. Everything seemed to be falling into place – working out exactly the way I thought I wanted.

Then I got some new information, and I discovered that what I thought I wanted wasn’t what I wanted at all.

I was disappointed. And worse, I felt like I’d wasted time. Do you ever feel that way? Do you feel stupid after a disappointment, like you “should have known better” than to get your hopes up for something that wasn’t what you thought it was at all?

This reminded me of something one of my housemates told me in college. I was an English major at Vassar, and most of my friends were liberal arts majors. Senior year my housemate Julie, a bio major, was doing original research for her thesis project. As she was preparing to present her findings at the end of the year she told us that basically, her research had proved her original hypothesis incorrect. We were sympathetic (like, “sorry it didn’t work!”). But she shook her head. “It’s okay. A negative finding is still a finding.”

Like everyone else that spring, I was trying to figure out what I was going to do after graduation. I applied for a job as a teaching assistant with an experiential school focused on maritime studies. I wanted to work with disenfranchised kids, and I had done a semester with the maritime studies program Williams-Mystic, so this seemed perfect.

On the morning of my interview, I got off the bus in Flatbush, Brooklyn, and everything in me said, No. This is not where I want to work next year. This is not the right path.

Meeting the staff almost changed my mind. They clearly cared deeply about their kids. We connected. But still, a hum in the back of my mind said, No, no, no, no. In fact, I decided on the train ride back to school that I didn’t want to move to New York City after graduation at all.

I was disappointed, because going into the city for the interview had been a big undertaking and it was the last week I had to spend with my friends before we scattered across the country. Also, it would have been so nice to have a direction, to have my next steps settled.

But I reminded myself: a negative finding is still a finding.

When we’re searching for our right life, it can feel like we’re a rat in a maze blindly bumping into walls. Not this job, not that boyfriend, not this professional field. Whoops, not this job, not this boss.

But a negative finding is still a finding. The more we can hone our perception of what’s NOT the right path, the more we strengthen our ability to ultimately recognize what IS the right path.



April 24, 2017

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2 Comments on “A Negative Finding is Still a Finding

  1. Very helpful. What we may interpret as a waste if time is one of those threads underneath the tapestry…part of the woven design that we see when completed. A negative finding is still a finding. I like that!

  2. Yes! I really enjoyed this reminder of Julie’s wise assessment – then as now, it struck me as a profound truth. 🙂

    Also loved your description of getting off the bus in Brooklyn and feeling everything within you say No.

    In the past I sometimes fought those moments of inner clarity – especially when the No was to something I really wanted to want! But I’ve learned to honor that mysterious, wise something that says Yes and No.

    Thank you for the encouragement to trust that innermost voice.

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