So I work because I want to. By why do I want to? I work because working is necessary to my vision of what I want my life to be. In fact, the money part is not actually necessary to that vision- I aspire to arrange my finances such that I do not feel that my choices about what work to do are quite so constrained by my need to bring in money to help support my family.
As I rocked Petunia toward sleep tonight, I thought more about my life and what I want it to be. Like most people, my life is a mishmash of different pieces, which I try to arrange in a meaningful way. I think my building blocks fall into three main categories:
Relationships. It is important to me that I do right by the other people in my life. Unsurprisingly, this is an area that has gathered a lot more blocks since I've had kids, but it was always an important area to me. I was never going to be someone who subordinated her personal relationships to some grand enterprise, even if that enterprise would do wonderful things for the rest of the world.
Joy. I really do think that being happy is one of the most important things I can aim for in my life. If I am not enjoying my life, I think about why and try to fix it. I've recently realized that for me, a big part of feeling happy is feeling free, and I'm still working through what I think that means to me and the life I've built.
If I'm honest, this aspect of my life has taken a bit of a hit since having kids, even though the kids themselves bring a lot of joy to me. I think the reason for that is that we have allowed the kids to constrain some of the other things, big and small, that bring me joy: travel, eating out, reading. I'm working to fix that, to the extent that we can, and I have made peace with the fact that I need to do that work. Having kids was a major change to my life and to my sense of identity. It shouldn't really be surprising that it has taken me a few years to find my equilibrium again.
Meaning. This is where work comes in. I want to leave the world a little better than I found it. I want to create things that touch other people. If I didn't try to do these things, I would feel a big hole in my life.
I've written about my struggles to find the "right" work for me and how I've been feeling restless in my career. The more I've thought about it, the more I realize that this isn't because I am fundamentally unhappy with the work I am doing now. It is because I am having a hard time figuring out in which way I can best contribute. Here is a list of the things I care about, in no particular order:
- Improving the way other scientists organize their data, with the idea that doing so will help them get more value from that data and the information it provides. This is a major component of my current job, and I still care about it. It bothers me that we do so much better at organizing our shopping data than our scientific data.
- Contributing to drug discovery. There are so many unmet medical needs out there- too many cancer diagnoses are essentially death sentences, we have so little to offer people with mental illnesses, infectious diseases still kill people, etc., etc. I know that a lot of people disparage the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry, and believe me, I do not think my industry is perfect. But we are still the ones trying to meet those unmet needs. I like being a part of that.
- Getting more women and minorities into science and technology. I think these are the fields that find solutions to a lot of problems, and I want as much diversity in these fields as possible, to increase the odds that we solve the most important problems. Also, there are some great and rewarding jobs in these fields (see point 2), and I want those jobs to be open to everyone.
- Convincing people that you can have a meaningful and successful career without subsuming your entire life to it- even in science and technology. I think this is closely related to the diversity problem. I also think that getting rid of the "real scientists and engineers will do whatever the work requires" stereotype would lead to more productivity and creativity, not less. Not to mention happier scientists and engineers.
- Providing equal education to all kids, regardless of income and location. In my view, education is the path to a happier life, because it is a path to a life with more choices (or freedom, if you will). It is the path out of poverty, and it is so, so unfair of us to propagate a narrative in which "anyone" can succeed while at the same time stacking the deck against the kids whose parents don't make enough money to buy their way to a good education. I know that the solution to poverty and the achievement gap is not as simple as just providing equal education... but I still think it would be a great start.
|I'm probably not going to build something this grand|
I don't know the answers. I haven't even figured out how to try to find them. I've been reading various books (and I have some more on my list to read), and doing a lot of thinking, but I'm not making much progress. I feel like I have dumped out all my blocks and divided them up by color, but haven't figured out what I want to build. All I know for certain is that I can't build something that pleases me without using my full range of blocks. So I won't be giving up work anytime soon- if I ever do.