One of the side effects of being on summer break from college is that everyone asks what you’re doing. Normally it’s kind of a rude question to ask what someone is doing with their life, what their achievements are, but for some reason when you’re in college it’s okay for someone to ask what your deepest hopes and dreams are, and how you’re going to accomplish them in the next few years. Luckily, I have a pretty decent response to this question. This summer I have had to recited this reply so many times I basically have a monologue memorized:
“Oh well I’m interning for a non-profit that rents an office space in the Central West End from TechArtista. The non-profit is called Water for Panama. We work to bring clean water solutions to indigenous villages in Panama. I’m working as the organization’s Chief Science Officer this summer. I conduct research, and collect data for them, allowing them to go forward in their work better informed and more targeted in their efforts to combat the water crisis.”
More often than not people respond that they’re amazed by this work, that they wish they had done something like that when they were younger/ in college/ didn’t have kids. I also get people who respond that they wish they had chosen jobs/ careers/ life paths that helped people like I am during my internship. They wish they had realized the value of having higher meaning in their work before they had chosen their career path. They depress themselves contemplating the deep meaninglessness that comes out of their toil at their 9 to 5, or the 9 to 5 they plan to have after they have their degree.
I have two reoccurring responses to these reactions to my summer work. I usually keep them to myself since I try to make a point of not moralistically lecturing strangers on a daily basis (despite the many many times I think I would be completely justified in doing so). I plan to share them here, so if you’re not interested in sage advice from a twenty year old college intern then skip the next few paragraphs.
Firstly, meaning comes from whatever you personally value. Having a meaningful life means spending the time to sit down and figure out what is meaningful to you, why, and how to achieve that meaning. Most people unthinkingly value volunteer work because it’s selfless, it’s important, it’s altruistic, and morally right. People aren’t wrong when they find value in volunteer work and working for non-profits. There’s a deep well of meaning in dedicating time and/ or money to serving people less fortunate than you, in helping manually correct the cosmic injustices that riddle the world. However, people mistake this type of meaning as the only meaning anyone can hope to achieve. Just because there is meaning in this type of work doesn’t mean there isn’t any in any other type of work. It all boils down to doing what you believe in, and what moves you. As long as you can be excited by your career, it sparks your soul, it gets your brain firing, it makes you feel like what you’re doing has real consequences and importance, you have found meaning in your work. Don’t be afraid or ashamed that you aren’t dedicating your life to saving rain forests, battling poverty, or correcting social injustices. There is meaning and value in whatever you invest meaning or value in. The important thing is to decide what it is that gives you personally a sense of achievement and meaning before deciding what you are going to dedicate your life to.
Secondly, it is never too late to achieve meaning in your life. If correcting these social and political injustices is what you find meaning in, but you are only just realizing it, and think that it’s too late to do anything about it, you’re wrong. Just because you haven’t flown to Africa to personally pour clean water into the mouth of a dying child doesn’t mean that you’re not moved by or dedicated to the cause. We don’t need thousands of people leaping on planes and handing out water and medicine; we need people who are dedicated to helping us do the grunt work. We need people who can raise money and awareness. We need people willing to give up a birthday for clean water, to get people to sponsor them to ride their bike, or only eat rice and beans for a month, or whatever else they think people will give them money to do. We need people who will spread the cause like wildfire, and make other people aware that there are problems that need to be fixed, and can be fixed.
(if you are one of these people, and looking for a cause to give your life some meaning, then follow this link: http://www.waterforpanama.org)
Anyway, for the last week I’ve been working on putting together a lab report of the data I spent the last four weeks collecting. Compiling the citations took an entire day, but now I’m focused on the paper, and it’s almost halfway done.
This week we received our MVP water filter! The MVP water filter is a hollow fiber membrane filter that attaches to any 5 gallon plastic bucket, and eliminates bacteria, viruses, parasites, and turbidity. We set it up in our office, tested it out, and demonstrated it to everyone who has visited us for the last few days.
Here are some pictures:
Josh, Chief Financial Officer, cuts a hole in the bucket for the filter.
Me, holding the filter in the WFP office.
On the left is the unfiltered water. On the right is filtered water. This is the power of our work. This is the difference we are trying to achieve in people’s lives.