September 22, 2012

Quo vadis?

An honorary office is a fulfilling duty, but not always a grateful business. From time to time people ask me what meaningful things I'm going to do for my career after I will have finished "all that honorary stuff" on which I spent so much time. Whenever I'm getting asked that kind of question with exactly this undertone, I simply smile and give them a meaningless answer to honor the so-called meaningless things on which I spent so much time. These situations make me realize how way too many people give away their happiness for things they don't even want to do but consider as expected by society. 

Every morning on my way to university, I see thousands of grumpy people in a rush to get from their homes to their workplaces as fast as possible. I can literally see people's discomfort on their faces because they desperately want to avoid any contact with all the other stressed out people out there. Sometimes I even find myself doing the same thing - earplugs in, music on, browsing on my smartphone just to escape all that negative energy. And it's pretty much the same, maybe even worse, with reversed directions on my way back home in the evening. Day in, day out. Whenever I see people grumble about a packed train or race down an escalator just to arrive in time wherever they think they have to, I ask myself whether that's what we're supposed to live for or whether that's what we have to go through in order to get what we want in life. Either way, I don't think so. And still these attitudes and excessive demands seem to be mass phenomena. Or should we rather call them plagues?

Even in geoscientific spheres, both industry and academia, most people are in a crazy rush to reach the next degree, publish the next paper or get the next salary increase. Some unwritten laws dictate them that this is the only way to become good scientists. Many say that's what any career is all about - deliver, outperform, succeed. And from a businessman point of view, I have to admit that they're actually right, but while all these accomplishments help you to climb the career ladder, they absolutely don't tell anything about how you grow as a human being and about how happy you are with your life. I've met professors and highly experienced industry professionals who had the social skills of a hillbilly. And I've met undergraduates who were totally happy and knew much more about the meaning of life and happiness than any young professional or postdoc.

It almost feels like someone is pushing fast-forward on that hustle all around me so that I can enjoy my progress in slow motion. It's strange because the me who started this blog four years ago wouldn't have appreciated this attitude at all, but this is how time changes people. I'm happy to be at the right place in the right time and I take pride in saying that, especially because of SGS, the Berlin-Brandenburg Metropolitan Region surely is one of the hot spots for young geoscientists these days. Support is great and gets better with every day, but I'd wish that the geoscience community and its decision makers saw the full potential of what we are doing as a group of students for our generation, for future generations and for the geosciences as a whole. I know that some - including me - would like to continue this work as professionals, but in regard to the status quo, unfortunately this reality is more than a lifetime away. Frankly speaking, appreciation and admiration don't feed families. As long as the majority rates this work as an exemplary add-on to meaningful normal business and not as an absolute must for social and scientific prosperity, it will always be a sacrificial mission to which only a few young people will agree to commit their spare time or even their careers and lives.

For quite some time I've been considering my future and in what ways I could contribute the most to what and whom I believe in. More and more, I can't deny that after everything we will have accomplished by next summer, for me there won't be anything left here in Berlin I could motivate myself for to keep my working temperature. Especially after an event like the IGSC 2013, it will be literally impossible for me to go back from 24/7 to normal under the circum-stances we have created here. Therefore, I've decided to leave Germany with the end of my final contract as a teaching fellow at Freie Universit├Ąt Berlin on 31 August 2013. Our planet is a big office for a young geoscientist and businessman with a special background like mine and there are a couple of great people I'd like to work with. So time will reveal the right spot for me to do some meaningful or not so meaningful things ...


Anonymous said...

Dear Aurelian,

I am happy to read the first and second paragraph of your post. This problem indeed puzzles philosophers for centuries by now. The most profound analysis of this phenomenon in modern times has beed developed by Karl Marx, esp. in his early texts. For a brief overview see the english wikipedia article:'s_theory_of_alienation.

and references therein. Another Author devoted to this topic is Erich Fromm, e.g. Haben oder Sein. However, the consequences of the findings of these authors might not be congruent with -as far as I can guess- what and whom you belive in.

Aurelian Roeser said...

Thanks for your comment. You come up with a very interesting point. Even though I don't support what people made out of the ideas of Marx, he was certainly right with what he identified as types of alienation.

My belief in certain ideas, people and entities has changed with the insight I gained into their circles.

When I was younger I believed that a scientist could easily elude this vicious circle of 9-to-5 assembly-line work, but I was far wrong. It makes me sad that I often hear academics decpreciate other labour, but in the end most of them are not much different in what they have become and do.