Thursday, September 22, 2005

What I Want

Aside from an infection and an allergic reaction to something they used during my surgery, I'm fine. My pathology report came back great--I won't need anything else done with the dreaded lump. The bonus of this whole ordeal is that the rash/infection gave me an excuse to get into dermatology right away and have my skin checked out for skin cancer at no extra cost. My skin looks good too, in case you were wondering:)

You have shared your motivations and desires (thank you--keep going if you'd like), so I should now explain why I asked. I am swamped here, so I'll have to break all of this into a series of posts (sorry).

I'm having one of those defining turning points in my life right now, and the events of the past few months, both personal and professional, have really made me think about what road I'm going down next. In order to explain this whole mess, I'm going to have to go way back...

Once upon a time,

I decided that I wanted to be a scientist. If I'm being honest, I must admit that I made this decision for three reasons. First, I was inquisitive, bright, and I enjoyed science because it fit the way my brain worked. Little dopamine molecules were released every time I completed a little, elementary school experiment. We are first slaves to our reward systems--that free will mumbo jumbo is secondary.

The second reason seemed righteous enough on the surface--I wanted to help the world. I grew up in an economically-depressed region where parents had it rough and children, in turn, had it rougher. I wanted to make a difference. This urge almost lead me to become a missionary until I had a falling out with institutionalized religion, so you can believe that it was (and still is) a strong one.

So where does the dopamine slavery fit in here, you may be wondering? Wanting to help people seems void of appetitive behavior. Could it be that we humans are one of the few altruistic animal species on the planet?

I don't know the answer to that. I do know that because I was a teacher's child, the school decided that I would be more noble than the rest, or at least easier to control. I was the one they placed in the "bad" homerooms to balance out the teachers' loads. I was the one that they sat next to the reallypoor kid with lice and BO because they knew that I didn't have the heart (or balls) to tease anyone. I was the girl who always got stuck tutoring the kid covered in open wounds that he created by erasing his skin off using a pink, number-2-pencil eraser.

I loved the attention I got because I was so "good", such a special little martyr. I loved being "better" than the other kids. When you're nerdy and chubby and dressed in clothes from BigLots and Hills--when you don't get the pretty pink invitations to the slumber parties held by the cool girls that always got placed together in the "good" homeroom--you need something that makes you feel better than the others. If you can't feel better than them, in some way it means you are below them, that you are unworthy. So maybe part of me was selfless in wanting to save the world, but part of my motivation turned out to be purely Pavlovian.

The third reason is the saddest, or maybe the most hilarious depending on how you take your tea. In 6th grade, I had to do an assignment where I picked an occupation from this humungous occupation manual. The lesson involved writing a paper defending my career choice and explaining how I would reach my goal. Pretty heavy for an elementary school kid who really just wanted to do the assignment on King Tut. I started out with interior design because it was the 1980's, and everyone wanted to be an interior designer. When I found out what an interior designer really did, however, I was annoyed, so I rethought my strategy.

How does a kid choose a job when given so many options? How does a child know that they want to be a doctor, a nurse, a fire fighter, or a vet (the most common choices of my classmates).

Beats the hell out of me.

I flipped through the books looking at salaries. I landed on my dream job which had an annual salary of...gasp...$50,000.

I was going to be a marine biologist, and I was going to be rich.

I was never going to live in a trailer again and be made fun of. I was never going to spend afternoons sitting in a dirty line in an ugly building waiting for an unemployment check with my dad. I was never going to buy my toys at Ames and wear dresses from Fashion Bug (or, on special occasions, JC Penny's). I was never going to eat hot-dog soup again. I was never going to cry at Christmas, not wanting to make a list of toys because I saw my mom and dad fighting and crying over money and bills every night. My muffler was not going to be held onto the car with a coat hanger or duct tape. I was not going to have eyes the color of pain and sadness like my mom and dad.

No, a marine biologist would never have to do any of those things. Welcome motivation number, or at least the assumption that money would cure the pain of my childhood and save my future children from being...well...from being me.

Alright, you can laugh now. How was I supposed to know that research scientist would be ranked as one of the top-5 jobs that payed badly in 2005, the year I was to finish my PhD?

To be continued...


At 10:11 AM, Blogger Jessica said...


This is one of the most poignant, insightful posts I've read in a long time...thank you for your honesty and your bravery in sharing it.

At 11:07 AM, Blogger Pink Cupcake said...

Exactly what Jessica said. Thanks for sharing and for being so honest. I wanted to comment on the previous post, but the truth is that I'm having a tough time answering the 'What motivates you in life?' question right now. I've been thinking about this kind of thing on and off for a few months now, and still am not sure where I'm at or where I want to be. It's definitely something I want to post about on my blog, but I've even been having trouble with that. So, thanks for the inspiration and for being brave enough to post about this.

And, I'm SO HAPPY that everything turned out well health-wise. That's fantastic. :)

At 12:17 PM, Blogger BrightStar said...

Thanks for sharing all of this with us.

At 12:28 PM, Blogger muse said...

Funny, I too wanted to be a missionary (minus the religion part... just wanted to help people, to change the world) and a marine biologist...

BTW, there's nothing wrong with being good giving you something back (personal satisfaction, reward, etc.), it's a way to replenish the well, so to speak. If you only give-give-give and don't get anything back, you just empty yourself out, and then you are too burned out to help anymore, so it defeats the purpose. :)

At 2:48 PM, Blogger BotanicalGirl said...

My reasons for becoming a scientist are very similar to yours. 1) I was the 'smart kid' and wanted to prove it to all those assholes in high school by waving a PhD in their face
2)Science always seemed pretty cool. But so did english.
3)Science has more job opportunities than having an english degree, which equals more money in theory.

At 2:49 PM, Blogger BotanicalGirl said...

Oh, and I forgot the altruistic helping people thing. That was a big one. For example, if I can engineer rice to be more disease resistant, drought resistant, have more nutrients etc. I can feed more people.

At 3:06 PM, Blogger sue said...

wow. thank you for sharing. i look forward to the rest... oh, and glad all came out okay on the rest.

wow. and to think i wanted to be a vet. didn't happen. now i just have lots of critters.

i admire you.

At 4:07 PM, Blogger trisha said...

i want you to know that i can't read this right now. i want to, but i am all screwy over here.

i love you.

At 4:58 PM, Blogger Edie said...

I wanted to be a vet, and then a marine biologist. My parents thought I would become the weather girl for the local television station. I'm sure I broke my dad's heart when I became a socialist writer. Ironically, all I research is the damned weather.

At 7:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't like to admit it, but I am motivated, in part, by the desire to prove people wrong. Particularly the teacher who said that I was only capable of memorizing.
And here's another guilty motivation: I think I enjoy research because it satisfies my curiosity, not necessarily because it will help people. Of course I'd like to see clinical utility come out of my research, but if it doesn't, my passion for research is still sustained by the exhiliaration of seeing that new piece of data.
Not to ruin a great conversation you have going here, but-- Fashion Bug wasn't cool? I owe my mom a big "thanks" for doing a superb job of throughly convincing me that the stuff I had was cool.

At 9:14 PM, Blogger shrinkykitten said...

I am so fricking glad you are okay. You were going to have to minister soon to my depression over your condition :)

I wanted oh so desperately to work on a kibbutz when I was a kid. Until my parents laughed in my face, that is. Now I want to join doctors without borders -- but you ahve to be a licensed shrink before they take you.

At 12:01 AM, Blogger Psycho Kitty said...

Sweetie. I would never laugh at you. I would take you out for a coffee maybe though, cause girl, we have a bit in common.

At 6:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You write WELL. Seems like you've been going through a lot, too (that's a British understatement). I'm still trying to be a missionary... trying not to fall out with organised religion as a result. Please consider yourself blogrolled...

At 2:57 PM, Blogger 21st Century Mom said...

I'm so happy you have no medical worries to deal with anymore. Yay for good health.

Your candor and honesty in this post are priceless and the writing is so good. I can see you as a child and it reminds me that when we meet an adult we have NO IDEA where that person came from or what his or her circumstances were. Some people are more obviously a product of their upbringing than others but by and large we all get a do-over when we leave home. And for some of us that is a huge blessing.

I was in a PhD program in Physiology because my path toward Marine biology brought me to the realization that most of the "Marine Biologists" at Woods Hole were not marine biologists at all but rather scientists who used marine organisms as models. Anyhow I married a drunk and quit grad school so my story ends there.

Yours is just beginning, though and I am axious for the next installment.

At 4:27 PM, Blogger she falters to rise said...

Thank you all for your compliments and for sharing your thoughts. It's amazing how many of us identify with each other, especially when it seems on the surface that we are all so very different.

Trisha: I know you've got a lot going on--I'm thinking of you.

Edie: I think it's great that you are a socialist writer.

Joy: Thanks and welcome to our little mid-life crisis, here.

PK: We will have that coffee someday.

Shrinky: I wanted to work with the WHO until someone said to me "My God, you'll get yourself killed". Bummer.

21st: The stories of peoples' lives never fail to amaze me. So many things influence our choices and decisions that it's amazing we get anywhere.

At 4:57 PM, Blogger academic coach said...

Thanks for this post - I'm glad that the biopsy came back negative.

At 7:34 PM, Blogger trisha said...

Dang, Rox, this is such good writing! Wow. Really, really, amazingly good. Maybe you should write a book. I hear that pays well.

I am disturbed by the images of you as a child. I am sorry you were poor and made fun of, though I am glad you didn't erase your skin.


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