I’m a 23-year-old in Chicago who’s had a pretty smooth transition out of school and into a job I like. I get to use some of my skills from my history major, I have flexibility and can afford to live on my own, and I’m getting professional respect from doctors and physicists who value my work. In the year since I started I’ve been offered the chance to go from contingency to full-time work and been promoted. In a year or so, I plan to take them up on a tuition credit that could allow me to go back to school for very nearly free (I’d pay for fees and books). I work in pediatric radiology research, managing the studies and making sure that they’re carried out efficiently and ethically. The work we do allows children to get an MRI instead of a biopsy, or avoid being exposed to radiation just to figure out why they’re sick. If I sleep poorly at night, it’s definitely not because I’m irradiating children.
But can I honestly say that I love not irradiating children? It’s good work and I’m learning a lot, but the issue that makes me mad and breaks my heart isn’t childhood illness, it’s poverty. I’m still proud of the activist I was when I was younger, but I’m not like that now. I was vice president of my school’s Gay-Straight Alliance during its most active years. When I was 15, I was protesting in downtown Chicago the night we started bombing Iraq, and I was back the next year serving dumpstered vegan food to the protestors from a bench in Federal Plaza. Those things are great, but what have I done lately? Mostly: given some money, signed some petitions, and not irradiated some children.
I’m thinking about ways I can grow in my work to address this. Pursuing an MA in medical ethics then going to law school would allow me to teach, write, pursue human rights work, and speak with some authority on the things that really bother me. Getting out of school and into work has already been clarifying, and I know the answer to my career path might be something I develop, not something I find. But I’m doing my thinking with a lot of guilty asides about how much my employer has done and will do for me. In a way, I feel like I’ve gotten it too good too soon– I don’t know that being a 23-year-old with something to lose is a very stable situation. And I’m not sure how much my activism needs to be part of my work if I can find some other way to make it part of my life.