Have you ever wanted to do something other than what you do now, that is, now that you’re grown up? I did, a few times actually. When I was much younger, helping animals sounded like a great and noble cause. I mean, I loved our dog, and I loved animals, so it was a match it seems. I even earned the Veterinary Medicine merit badge, so you knew I meant business. But it was during those merit badge requirements I met with an actual Vet and followed him for an afternoon. One teenage employee cleaned cages all day, not exactly the part time job I would look forward to in pursuing my new career. And the Vet himself, he showed me how to neuter a cat. You might think this noble professional would take great care in this procedure. He would carefully make an incision, a couple snips here and there, and then sew him right up, good as new…errr well maybe not as new.
Reality it seems, is not as we always picture it. He wrapped his fingers around both cat testes and ripped them out in one motion, tossed them in the trash can on top of some paper and then sewed him up. The cat laying on his back, looking up dazedly around the room, didn’t even seem bothered by the whole ordeal. I looked down horrified at the little pill shaped balls sitting there in the trash next to some discarded mail and wrappers. It was then I realized this is not for me. I would not be helping animals 95% of the time. Instead I would spend most of my day and my career, my life, violently removing animals reproductive organs.
I hadn’t worried much about what I was going to major in in college. I settled on graphic design because I like computers and I like computer graphics. Keeping things simple, I stuck with it. My sophomore year though, I had to take a science class and geology fit perfectly into my schedule. The professor was one of the more sleep inducing ones I’ve had, an expert powerpointer if I ever saw one. But despite his poor delivery, and even poorer jokes, I showed up to every class and peeled my eyes open to stay awake because I loved it. Maybe it was the void it filled with actually understanding how the Earth works. Or maybe it was the stories such knowledge inherently told about our planet. It felt a little like learning about what your great grandfather was like and what he did. You felt a fond connection to the past and to this thing you never knew or knew anything about before.
I’ve had this feeling before too. Also back in my time in Boy Scouts, many of the dads in our troop were geologists. This really was a unique privilege when you are hiking around the mountains as much as you do in scouts. We would come upon some cliffs or other rock formations and one of the dads would tell us not only what kind of rocks they were and how they formed, but he could extrapolate the history of the very ground we stood on for the past several million years. It was magic really. It made your imagination run wild to picture what it was like where you stood 20 million years ago, and even feel special that you can appreciate it, where some other hiker might walk by the same spot never knowing any better of the wonder and history that laid under his feet.
Yeah, I thought it would be just fine to be a geologist, to be outside all day, away from the office, the desk, the routine and everydayness of a regular job. But reality it seems, is rarely so aligned with our expectations. Those dads in our troop, every single one worked for an oil company. They used their magic to predict, with a certain accuracy, the chances of there being oil beneath a given area. What imagination did this instill, what wonder or joy? None.
It was a strange coincidence that the two careers I had hoped for equated to either ripping out an animals testicles or pinpointing where to rip out the Earth’s sealed up carbon only to release it back again. Could you boil down all career paths down to the same sort of nihilistic views? Maybe so. But I’m not going to lie, I still think about it whenever I see a mountain, or a canyon or a cliff. I think about the story there that made it, and I think about the history, and I think about maybe taking another geology class.