A common theme in recent time seems to be "why bother?" Why bother fight injustice, why bother fund NASA, why bother limit the water on your lawn if the leading users of water are commercial users who haven't limited anything? (Look it up).
I wrestle with this question a lot. As the continuing journey to become something more than I think I am capable of becoming (an astrophysicist), I find myself occasionally fighting depression and for reasons unrelated to the sudden work load that accompanies being removed from school for over ten years. If you have thoughts of changing the world you have probably learned to avoid social media or reviewing what people have to say during times of great social upheaval. Racism, class warfare, and a host of politically-motivated issues tend to bring out the best humanity has to offer. And by "best" I mean appallingly embarrassing.
If the vast majority of people tend to follow this pattern of socially reprehensible behavior - why devote yourself to science? Why commit to a life of improving something that the vast majority of people want no part of? If you don't believe me, take a look at how difficult it is to get any sort of climate change policy passed - or to even get the public on equal footing with what the most educated among us. Why would I want to subject myself to a life of continued questions involving financial security, public scrutiny, and unwarranted fear? This is a question I have several times posed in my head and have considered how to ask someone who is in the position I one day hope to be in. The thought experiment that usually follows is putting yourself in their position and asking how, if you achieved what you wanted, how would you respond to someone else who is in your place?
People who are high up in the science "intelligentsia" (if you will) are quite often removed from the very general public they hope to inspire and wish to change. It's no use going to book signings and doing public appearances at colleges if everyone in attendance agrees with you. These are not the minds that need to be moved.
Something that has occurred to me in the last year or so regards my own unique gifts. Everyone comes from a unique set of background factors that shape who they are and how they look at the world. Their hobbies, their friends, their upbringing - all play a part in who they are and how they approach problems. There's a myriad of scientific research on each one's effects (starting with middle children and moving all the way on to school and spirituality) but all it really tells us is that perspective is vital. Einstein worked in a patent office. Darwin studied at a seminary. Bill Nye (yeah, I compared him) worked for an airplane manufacturer.
What gifts do I hope to bring to the conversation? Why past experiences can I pass on from my intellectual DNA? Well, if you're looking for unique I'm definitely there.
During my time floating through life in a successful retail career (even ran my own 40k square foot store), I picked up a number of talents that seem to be void in the fields of science - and many of them are based strictly on social ability. For starters, I developed a passionate dedication to understanding and studying effective leadership. As Simon Sinek might say, getting great leaders to inspire action. This led to a host of personal revelations on how to motivate, understand, help, organize, and inspire people. I've spent the better part of ten years taking unskilled (watch where you throw that word around with my people!) workers that should not be committed to anyone and getting them to work and believe in themselves and their team. Surely getting a group of college students (and drop-outs) to push themselves to achieve brings with it a certain set of social skills that would be intangible in the anti-social ranks of physicists and their particles.
Ultimately it is this leader's perspective that drives me. A lot of great decisions were not popular ones and yet they were still made and still needed to be made. I don't have to be the best physicist and will likely not contribute anything lasting to any legacy of import - other than to help a) organize the people that can and b) make difficult decisions. A large part of the current leadership in our country in general believes that b) involves cutting people to turn a profit. That's not difficult. Difficult is cutting profit so you don't lose people. Make that work and you've got yourself a leader. Managers do the opposite.
I face many bumps in the road and this first foray into school has already tested me. I'm not very well rehearsed for school and yet seem to be excelling. It really is remarkable how much easier it is when you're motivated. On the flip side, I have to catch up on years of absence from advanced math and study habits - and a childhood that was largely filled with sports and movies - not science and engineering. I tend to fall back to sports when I'm stressed (a fact that shames me slightly when I look at my telescope in its bag all by its lonesome), but still cannot find a replacement for the sense of wonder and unlimited possibilities whenever a new mathematical concept or scientific discovery crosses my attention. Perhaps this embracing of infinity, this ultimate abstract of human consciousness is what drives people away. Perhaps being able to empathize with that experience is my most important source of perspective.
Whatever it is, I'm taking it with me. You're free to join.