Secret recipe for winning a Nobel Prize = VW

Last Friday, I attended US-Japan Council (USJC)’s annual conference held in DC.
Atlas Corps’ Japanese fellows are sponsored by TOMODACHI initiative, which is a partner of USJC, which is why I was invited to attend as a part of the initiative.
Speakers and panelists included representatives from the Japanese Embassy, State Department, scholars, and people working with TOMODACHI initiative.

The highlight of the conference for me was Dr. Shinya Yamanaka (picture), who won the Nobel Prize in Medicine last year.  (For some science enthusiasts that are interested in the awesome work that he did with iPS cells, refer to the New York Times article here because I don’t have the capacity to articulately summarize his work).  Dr. Yamanaka is considered to be a rock star in the Japanese science field, and even my mom (who isn’t a science fan) was super excited after I told her that I got to listen to him live.

I was impressed with Dr. Yamanaka’s speech for two reasons.  One, he was hilarious.  I never heard such a funny speech coming out from a Japanese person.  In addition to his funniness, he shared his secret that helped him succeed in his career: VW.  And no, he didn’t mean to encourage us  to buy volkswagens.  VW, stands for Vision + Work hard.  Dr Yamanaka said he has seen many scientists working hard, but not necessary following their visions.  He said he was able to succeed in his career because he never lost his vision of helping patients with his research.

The VW story really hit home for me, because it reminded me of a time when I was talking to a college student last year.  In the midst of a networking reception, out of the blue, he asked me, “So what is your dream?  How are you following it?”  I felt my tongue tying up.  What was my dream?  Was it to work at a prestigious organization?  Was it to make money to live comfortably?  When was the last time I thought about my dreams or goals beyond the next five years?

Buried with everyday tasks, we tend to forget why we are here in the first place.  The VW story reminded me that we can’t achieve great things unless we include both goals and efforts.