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“It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn't feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.” – Neil Armstrong (1930-2012)

Fresh Reads from the Science 'o sphere!

Monday, January 14, 2008

I Was Never That Young

James T. Kirk: Congratulations, Ensign. It wouldn't be the Enterprise without a Sulu at the helm.

Demora Sulu: Thank you, sir.

Pavel Chekov: I'm sure Hikaru must be very proud of you.

Demora Sulu: I hope so.

Pavel Chekov: [wistful] I was never that young.

James T. Kirk: [smiling] No... you were younger.

from Star Trek: Generations (1994)

Some things in life are just kinda assumed to be true.

You know, stuff like: kids are brash and idealistic, the older you are the wiser you get, absence makes the heart grow fonder, you should drink 8 glasses of water a day...

The idealism of youth? Now that's an idealism in itself.

Some people do start off as enthusiastic little nerds, and after years of hard knocks and reality checks, gradually transform into disillusioned old fucks.

It's true.

But what disturbs me are people who were never "that young".

People who, right from the start, already understood how the world works; how the table tilts, how the cookie crumbles.

I've met quite a few such individuals before.

While doing my undergrad in neuroscience, there was this guy who was a model student - President of the Neuroscience Students' Association, superb grades, active in sports and an eloquent speaker.

In Singapore, he would be called an "all-rounder".

His ambition was to become a consultant neurosurgeon, a dream that he broadcast to everyone through his personal website.

Then one day, he suddenly realized how long and how much effort it would take to become a neurosurgeon. More than a decade of training! Less than a year before graduation, he decided to switch into another programme... guess which one...

Business. Yes, rake me the dollars baby!

We met in a corridor once and he passed me his new namecard - he had become a part-time financial analyst and had new ambitions in big money.

I remember that I was so disgusted I threw his namecard away immediately after he walked off. Of course I was a naïve, ignorant, self-absorbed twerp then. And a wee bit idealistic, not save-the-world idealistic but gobs more than he was.

When I review his decision today, I realize that it is a brilliant move. I have no doubt that he has become a successful financial consultant today. In contrast I have sentenced myself to years of constant struggle and likely more such years in the future.

He seemed like quite an exemplar of materialistic pragmatism at that time, but since then I've met people who are so accomplished in this regard as to make him look like a grade-school dinosaur geek.

For example, there's this guy who said that his dream was to become a TCM physician. He firmly believes that science is a fraud but keeps doing research because it pays much better.

Another person claims that his "passion" is in science, but he never talks about science and has been spending practically all his time doing business-related activities.

How about the ex-engineer who said that his "passion" is in investment? What the hell does that mean? I didn't know that "investment" is a subject that you can be passionate about. Especially if the investment fails to make money.

Dude, just say you love money, it's perfectly normal.

All these guys still pale in comparison to certain 17-year-olds who join the political establishment as junior members.

Maybe administrators are born, not made.

They were never that young.