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How to overcome a fear of failure and asking for help

How to overcome a fear of failure and asking for help

Leona Smith, a microbiology laboratory supervisor at Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, talks about diversity in STEM and the importance of embracing failure at work.

We can all suffer from imposter syndrome from time to time. Being afraid that you’re not good enough for a job or waiting to be ‘found out’ can be a difficult thing to deal with at work.

In a similar vein, employees can often feel an overwhelming need to prove themselves in their job. This often develops into a fear of failing at a particular task and even being afraid to ask for help.

Asking colleagues for help is important but when you feel the need to do things all yourself or prove that you know everything, it can be hard not to see asking for help as a sign of weakness.

If this all sounds painfully familiar, don’t worry – you’re not alone.

Here, Leona Smith, a microbiology laboratory supervisor at Johnson & Johnson (J&J) Vision Care, speaks about her struggle with asking for help and how she came to embrace failures as a learning curve.

What drew you to the biopharma industry?

I suppose, initially, I had a wonderful biology teacher, Tina Farrelly, who passed on to her students a great interest in the area. This influenced my third-level choice of biomedical science in Maynooth University and my entry into the STEM industry.

What’s the best thing about working in biopharma?

The diversity. It gives me a great opportunity to interact with a lot of different people. On a daily basis, I work with a number of different but interconnected departments including operations, engineering, quality and senior management. This diversity in any given working day ensures that I am continually learning and growing in my knowledge of the various aspects of the business.

What’s the most exciting development you’ve witnessed in your sector since you started working in it?

Working in Vision Care, it is incredible to see the developments in automation. J&J are at the forefront of advances in automation and robotics. This is changing the way we manufacture our products and is also driving us continually to look at leaner, smarter ways to test and maintain the highest level of compliance.

What aspect of your job did you struggle to get to grips with?

Initially, when I started out in my career, I found it very hard to ask for help. I felt that I had to continually prove myself and couldn’t afford to show anything that could be perceived as a sign of weakness.

As I grew into my career, I came to realise that it is only through the process of asking questions and collaboration with colleagues that one can grow and truly contribute to a successful team.

In this sector, no one works in isolation and seeking the help of colleagues provides the perfect opportunity for learning and problem-solving.

What’s been the hardest thing you’ve had to face in your career?

Failure at a task. A lot of people consider failure to be an ugly word, but it is part of the process of learning. I have learned more through the process of failure, review and resolution than would otherwise have been the case.

At the time, a failing water system or a test method validation that is not working can be very stressful. However, in hindsight, by exploring root cause analysis and problem-solving, it promotes greater understanding and expertise.

If you had the power to change anything within the STEM sector, what would that be?

To see equal female representation in STEM disciplines. This is something that is changing, and J&J are at the forefront of this with participation in WiSTEM2D.

I believe passionately in the need for this change and I am proud to say that I am playing a part in this process by serving as a core team member on the J&J campus Ireland WiSTEM2D team.

Which of your personality traits makes you best suited to your job and this sector?

I would like to think that my ability to apply a critical-thinking process to problems that arise make me well suited for this role. As such, I try to see the opportunities in any given situation and have a can-do attitude.

Is there something in your personal life that helps you in your job?

A strong support network of friends and family. It is always good to have someone to talk to about your day.

How do you make connections with others in the STEM community?

I have been fortunate to attend the Irish Medtech Association Sterility Assurance Forum over the last number of years. It is a great opportunity to network and interact with industry peers and hear from experts on topical issues.

I also find LinkedIn to be a fantastic medium of communication as you can easily follow topics and individuals in the STEM community.

Working in a company like J&J, there are endless opportunities to make connections with others in the STEM community. Working with the J&J Sterility Assurance Sterilisation Council has given me a great chance to connect with my J&J colleagues globally.

Has mentorship or coaching been important in your career?

Absolutely, it is my experience that the people I learned from through mentorship have been very willing in sharing their knowledge and time. This has had an immeasurable impact on my career progression.

In turn, I am mentoring a graduate engineer in Vision Care as part of the J&J graduate programme and also a University of Limerick STEM student as part of the J&J WiSTEM2D programme. Mentorship is an important part of future-proofing the talent pipeline and I feel that it is only right that I should make a contribution to the process from which I have gained myself.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about a career in STEM?

STEM is a great career choice. It gives you a lot of options and there is great scope to learn and develop.

To anyone thinking about a career in STEM, my advice would be to go for it!

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