Why do you wake up each morning? What drives you to climb out of bed every day? The answer will vary depending on your socio-economic background, country of residence, physical and mental state, and everything else I have forgotten. I’ve been asking myself these questions for decades. Usually I feel driven to complete some project, dream chaser that I am. Sometimes I am driven by some motivation just to survive or other times in the past I just didn’t get out of bed. However, eventually some drive, not necessarily related to caffeine, will kick in. Caffeine, however, is a huge motivator to get out of bed!
At some point at an early age I felt motivated to make a contribution to science. I recorded that I aspired to be a “quantum mechanic” or an astrophysicist when I was about ten years old. This dream motivated me for decades, inspiring me to do the whole spiel of a BA in astrophysics from Wellesley College, MS in string theory at UCLA, and PhD in theoretical cosmology at McGill University. I wrote papers along the way and paved the way to consummate all my dreams when the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics nominated me as a National Fellow. The next logical step would be to gain teaching experience and land a tenure track faculty position.
But dreams have a funny way about them. Achieving them doesn’t necessarily lead to peace or happiness nor does the strife of the process of pursuing them. I tried postdocing for two and a half years and contract teaching last semester for two courses in preparation for fulfilling my lifelong dream of becoming a professor.
Honestly, I didn’t think I would survive.
Let’s talk about the teaching. Five hours of lecturing a week doesn’t sound overwhelming until you factor in the 80 pages of hand-written and typed presentation material that needed preparation each week. Performing administrative duties, meeting with students, writing and solving two weekly homework problem sets, writing and grading exams, compiling grades, making course web page updates and posting material, and answering emails all compounded to consume my waking hours.
Plus I forgot I suffer from performance anxiety and teaching new lectures in front of an audience of nearly 50 students three times a week for just one of my courses was a bit of a challenge. I wouldn’t say it was as bad as free falling into a Dante book, but it was a source of consternation. Before my first day of teaching I watched inspiring movies about teachers who made a difference in the lives of their students. The one time I tried to deliver an inspiring speech to my students to fight like warriors (a phrase a friend of mine coined ironically to describe his pursuit of a faculty position) to make their dreams come true and learn math, I sounded more like a certain cartoon mouse trying to inspire an army rather than Alexander the Great or a Tolkien hero.
So I went to my GP who prescribed some things including two hours of piano practice a day and Scriabin. Naturally, with nearly ten plus hours of course work to do a day, I neglected the piano. On the other hand, the Scriabin did help a modicum.
I learned a lot in the process. There is probably some topological description of how lifelong dreams can turn inside out and upside down, even just temporarily, which for me happened in these last three odd post-student years. And now I am reevaluating my purpose and place, insignificant though it is, in the universe. I still feel the urge to contribute to science and to teach, but in a less frenetic way.
I believe at Harvard researchers are studying happiness, but it doesn’t take much scientific examination to see that passing my Grade 5 voice exam with honors despite some unique challenges and the process of singing and playing piano are an offering of mental peace to me. Whatever I do professionally, I need to follow my doctor’s orders and incorporate making music into my daily life.
I am a dream chaser. The next goal for me is to master my Grade 8 piano and Grade 7 voice practical and the theory exams while keeping my passion for theoretical physics and mathematics alive. My next dream also includes sculpting with words, documenting my experiences, and creating new journeys in my mind through language. Maybe someday I will be able to rally an army of students to fall in love with mathematics and physics as much as I have fallen in love with them, but for the time being I hope to make new memories of new dreams of the musical and literary variety. In the rambling scribbles of this blog, I hope to analyze dreams, the preparation needed to complete music exams, and make side-trips along the way through the corridors of thoughts and through cosmic and mathematical harmonies. So that answers the question of what will get me out of bed tomorrow (plus a giant latte in my UCLA mug).
Why will you get up tomorrow?