Well, maybe one of the most important.
Know what is important to you, and what is not important. Know what matters and what doesn't.
A corollary to this is:
Choose what you do to be on the path of what is important. Do not get sucked into doing things that are not. This is not necessarily easy, as determining importance and the path to it are not always obvious.
Here is the example from this week that smacked me between the eyes, or actually in the eyes, halfway through listening to the seminar.
Some of my work has not only clinical but clinical-commercial implications and potential. On one hand it is something that really, truly might make a difference to a set of people with a problem. On the other, it might makes some money. Both of these interest me. But how much? And much must I stray from that path of importance to me to get there?
That's the problem with following the path to what is important to you. I can identify things that are. But I am not always sure which of the many paths opening before me will get me there, which are dead-ends, but worthy of trying, and which will drive me nuts.
I was at a seminar about a program that trains scientists & engineers in the development of commercial viability for things that they can translate from bench to bedside, to use the buzz words. The program is a teaching/learning one, sponsored by my state (as in United States) to help local (in the state) universities "realize their entrepreneurial potential". It has about $20K in funds, mostly to travel to the state capital and visit "potential clients". The presentation was by a PI from my school, who with a postdoc and grad student, had done this, and now have a company, have potential, and in fact, are Going To Make A Difference, as well possibly make some money.
What smacked me between the eyes was that this was an extremely efficient way for both The State (of confusion, truth be told) and my almost-MRU to sort through projects that might be useful and make money and bring jobs and whatever pots of gold they see in this process, from those that are not and will not. It doesn't cost them much in time and energy, and at the end the 10 or 5 or 2% that are going to pan out are much more obvious.
What and who does it cost? Well, the PI for starts. No one is paying their salary whilst doing this (if you are in soft money position and one of the reasons to this is to generate support for your work), no one is paying your postdoc or grad student (if you have to carry their salaries), and in fact if you have NIH/NSF money for their salaries, they technically have to do this on their own (hahah) time. It turns out both this postdoc and grad student were industry bound before starting this project, and they were quite keen to get the experience. The PI is a full prof, who had a patent on a molecule that has high promise. This group was one of the winners, that's clear. But they worked very very hard at the program for about 6 months. During this time, however, I am pretty sure that other work on their NIH project, thesis and etc did not get done. I am pretty sure that no new proposals went in during this time frame.
So back to the question at the beginning. Did the program seem interesting to me? Yes, the guys who did it emphasized that the connections they made, let alone what they learned was valuable. But, is it on the path to what I want to do? I just don't know. If my almost-MRU anted up more of the energy to do this, perhaps. If there was salary support for the trainees (and its clear, you need a team that includes trainees) it might be more feasible. But that's not what they want. They want the money makers sorted out from the not-quites. And by even asking these questions, I've entered into the not-quites.