Eventually, all scientists come to the same fork in the road: industry or academia. Unfortunately, no science produces such a stark difference in those two choices like geology. I could continue on with a PhD or maybe even a post-doc and make pennies, work unfathomably long hours, yet retain the same freedom that drove me to choose the profession. On the flip side, I could make a six-figure income, but be contained to a monochromatic cubicle for exactly eighty hours a week, staring at infinite stacks of seismic data and remembering how I used to enjoy the outdoors. I believe that in the beginning most geologists start out with good intentions; however, years of debt and graduate school stipends can erase the best-laid plans.
I have always tended to associate with the ‘make love, not war’ crew. For years, I sported a ‘practice random acts of kindness’ bumper sticker and I love catching the latest independent flick at the local theater and buying organic produce (when I can afford it). Therefore, you can imagine the uproar of disapproval from some of my friends and family at the mention of a possible future with BP, Chevron, or even *gasp* Exxon-Mobil.
My mother, who is only forty-three, has struggled with fibromyalgia for more than a decade. Recently, her health has been rapidly deteriorating and her doctor told her that if she didn’t switch to part time work, she was going to become permanently disabled, or worse. As irony would have it, my mother is a nurse, and I know she loves her job almost as much as her family. Unfortunately, it is physically and mentally demanding with a large amount of overtime, and even when she isn’t working, she is generally on-call. When she relayed her doctor’s warning to her employer, they told her that if she wasn’t going to be able to work the hours they wanted her to, regardless of it’s obvious detriment to her health, then she wasn’t welcome to work for them anymore. My mother was forced to choose between the job she loves and the life she loves to live.
She chose life. Now, she is struggling to pay her bills and I know that not being able to afford a Thanksgiving dinner for her family is breaking her, but we just want her around for many more Thanksgivings.
As I interview with numerous oil and gas companies this fall, I wonder if my friends would still judge me if they really knew why. It isn’t because I always wanted a big house. I never wanted to be rich and I especially never wanted to live in Houston, Texas. But, my mother has literally given her life to better the lives of others and I am doing it for her, because I believe she deserves better.
Judge me if you want, but I believe that people should be judged not by what they do, but by why they do it.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.