Work, Passion

It’s funny how Seth Godin’s blog posts seem to come along at opportune moments. I really dig his super-short pieces – 150 to 200 words, they’re a very quick read, always pithy, to the point, and somehow often spot-on to something I was already thinking about. (It’s a bit like Richard Feynman’s aunt who never called).

Today was his piece on work and passion: that you can either expect passion to come along first, and resolve to dedicate yourself wholeheartedly to it when it shows up; or choose something to dedicate yourself to and become passionate about. I got it backwards. I’m 38 and still working that out.

See, I started off interested in a number of very passion-worthy things: tropical ecology. Anthropogenic distributions of neotropical palms, within that realm. Before that, horses (oh, horses, of course, to an obsessive degree). And then, for a while, metagenomics, until I committed to a PhD in said field and just. could. not. read. the. papers. (Wait – doesn’t that sound familiar?). And then it became infectious diseases, which had actually really piqued my interest since I was in my teens and read The Hot Zone, Flu, and The Virus Hunters. That one carried me through my Master’s degree(s) which then branched into pathogen evolution and microbiology, which led me to soil science and the microbiome and back into ecological restoration. Or the other way(s) around, I can’t recall which. But who cares.

Any one of those fields would have been – would still be – absolutely worthy of a deep, headlong dive in. Of lifelong commitment, sacrifice, and yes – passion.

But I kept looking. I’ve always kept looking. Maybe it would be that next thing – grassland ecology, grazing science, composting, conflict ecology… I know when I finally go through those journals I’ll find dozens of others. All just as obsession-worthy as the last, and yet left disappointingly unobsessed about, at least by me. In this lifetime.

So here I am. Ready to flip the tables, and start with work. My eyes glaze over when I read soil science papers. But at some point, they won’t.

My excitement picks up when I read disease papers, but that’s – in part – because I’ve read so many of them, and I speak that language. It’s true, that’s an area that grabbed me completely right from the get-go, but that doesn’t me it has to be The Thing: it can be the unifying thread, something I return to, something that ties all the disjunct ideas together, or “what started it all”.

So from hereforth on I commit to learning about the soil microbiome everything there could be to need to know. Dynamics of rhizosheaths, quorum sensing, nitrogen fixation, nutrient transport, root exudates. How these ideas connect to those of the gut microbiota; cross-talk between soil and grazer as one consumes the other. Nutrient, water, mineral, and energy cycling. Fungal dynamics. Just start reading. If each of these 500-word posts was a quick-and-dirty summary of a paper (or two) that would mean, potentially, something around 365 – 21 – 31 = 313 articles read and summarized by year’s end. That’s not a bad start (at all) for a PhD. If I did one a week? That’s going to end up to be about 45. Still realistic and useful given that it’s a hell of a lot better than I’ve got going on now. So – adding to the 10 minutes guitar, the physical therapy, and the 500 words writing, is a purpose: 1 paper every other day. Even days are reading (because it’ll start tomorrow, right?) and writing a short summary and odd days are delving into it a little more, possibly connecting to something else.

Soil science, here we come.

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