Monday, June 25, 2007

What I Do Matters

It's a universal question that most of us ask ourselves at least once during our lives: why am I here, and what is my purpose? Some of us believe in a God, or perhaps we believe in destiny in which case we believe in a purpose, but that purpose has not yet been revealed to us. Many of us do not believe in a God and some of us believe that our destiny can be controlled by our actions. For those individuals, the esoteric question, "why?" is explained by the chain of events that led up to the question and is based purely in logic and an understanding of human behaviour. Purpose, and destiny are no more relevant to the question than the colour of my bedspread is relevant to whether the sun will rise again tomorrow. But regardless of our spiritual persuasion, we still ask ourselves every now and then, what the heck is the point of it all?

Depending on our stations in life, this question may matter more to some than to others. For many graduate students including myself, this question is on our minds a lot of the time. Graduate work is a tedious process of infinitesimally small advances in science. Breakthroughs in any particular field generally occur in more than one place at the same time because the right amount of information was available. Once a breakthrough has been made, people in that field of study look at the result and comment, "why didn't I think of that? It's so obvious!" Well, hindsight is 20/20, and we can't all be geniuses. But what about all of those infinitesimally small advances? Some results are not obvious without those infinitesimally small advances, and what's so special about the breakthrough anyway? Anyone could have thought of it; but those infinitesimal advances are not always so obvious. More importantly, the vast amounts of literature in any given field often make it difficult to find the true gems that constitute an infinitesimal advance as opposed to recycled junk and cross field publications. And since these true gems are difficult to find, the authors seldom receive the recognition they deserve and they ask themselves, "what the heck is the point of it all anyway?"

So what is the point? What did you do today? Not everyone is cut out to be great. Main stream entertainment recognizes this fact and there is an undercurrent in every movie that allows the common man who will probably never amount to anything to feel that his station in life is justified by the way he lives it. As long as he's a good father and provides for his family, the fact that he never won an Oscar, or a Pulitzer or any other recognition or award is largely irrelevant. But why should anyone settle for being so ordinary? It certainly is easier to just accept one's abilities; give in to mediocrity and just exist for the time you have been given. Perhaps, you will enjoy every moment.

But maybe the point isn't to be great. Maybe it is to simply do something that matters in our own ordinary way and to be proud of what we have accomplished. I for one state proudly, that what I do matters. In my infinitesimal advances towards the next breakthrough, I stand proud as the shoulders on which greatness will stand. And maybe that's the whole point.

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