A Scientist's Search for Meaning

A short-short story about a successful person with existential angst.

Posted Feb 14, 2016

MuffinTop4, Public Domain
Source: MuffinTop4, Public Domain

Here is the latest of my short-short stories that are composites of real-life events with psychological or practical implications.

After two disastrous relationships in college, Hannah decided that her primary path to meaning would be to be a genetics researcher working on personalized approaches to preventing early heart attacks.

She did the difficult work of getting a Ph.D. in molecular biology and because even with that, she couldn't land a good research job, she accepted a low-pay three-year post-doc. In year two, seeing that the pace of progress is far slower than media hype would have us believe, in a crisis of meaning, she suddenly quit.

She thought, "I can't make a difference. Not only is progress glacial, I'm an interchangeable part. Many other people, those underemployed Ph.D.s, could do what I do. Not withstanding what the activists say, my vote doesn't count: The odds of my vote determining who gets elected is essentially zero. I'm not going to be a better spouse or mom than millions of others could be. And just doing random acts of kindness somehow doesn't seem important enough. Nothing matters enough. Nothing."

In the end, Hannah concluded that her reasoning was wrong. She decided that while it is true that she is interchangeable, she has a choice between making the most of who she is or not. And so, yes, she'd probably end up curing nothing, but at least a few candidate genes would have been crossed of the list. Sure, she might end up being just an average romantic partner and mother but that's still better than leaving it to others who might be much below average.

So Hannah reapplied for jobs. Being out of the workforce for a year made her not-competitive for those rare tenure-track university positions so she took a job in a pharmaceutical company, where she is evaluating candidate genes for osteoarthritis—not a killer but still a most worthy project. She started to dress more attractively, put out availability vibes, married one of her coworkers, had a child, and turned out to be a terrific mom—caring but not overprotective, respectful but limit-setting, and patient, well usually.

On a Sunday morning, as she laid in bed next to her husband, with their four-year-old jumping on the bed giggling, she looked at them, flashed on her life, and smiled.

HERE is another composite person's search for meaning.

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