So my last post was actually about my own battle with how to balance selfish desires for financial stability and a desire to apply my engineering background to truly making a greater difference. But as I posted that last post, I felt immediate regret. First, I exposed myself to be the true coward that I fear I am- too afraid of risk to generate societal benefit outside of the normalized career paths. Second, writing my thoughts just made them all the more real… all the more dangerously close to being true. This class was actually the first time I’d faced these questions head on, and I was truly afraid of whether or not I would have the confidence to pursue this work as PPAT came to a close.
Therefore, this is both a follow-up and a full pivot. As this class has come to a close and my thoughts are fully gathered, I see the inspiration in everything that we have seen this semester, as well as in what I’ve begun to notice outside of class because of PPAT. Here’s a video my friend actually showed me the other day:
(Just try to tell me the look on this dog’s face didn’t make your heart melt into a million bubbly pieces of love… :’))
As a bit of background, this very friend who showed me the video is going into finance next year, but further than that, her plan is to work her booty (please excuse the colloquialism) off until she can feel financially sound enough in her family and life, and at that point, she will open a veterinary hospital or animal shelter so that she can take care of the animals that she’d always loved so much. Simply put, this plan made sense to me- gain money/power –> use money/power for good. But what we realized while watching this video together was that here-in lies her perfect harmony of childhood dreams and current career goals. If she were to apply her Mechanical engineering background to working for Animal Ortho Care or 3D Printed Systems, she could complete projects like this immediately, without the 20+ years of money-making stalling. Now, I don’t think I can say that this is now her plan. She’s still going into finance and still wants to open the shelter later, but now she’s aware of this as a possibility, and so am I.
In another mildly ironic turn of events, the lectures that came directly after my blog post were those of Sara Hendren and Amos Winters, possibly the two most perfect examples of applying their schooling to the assistive world. As I sat their and listened, I watched as every word I’d just written got thrown back in my face, proven invalid and ignorant- and I could not have been happier. This was everything I had hoped to be true but was too cynical to believe.
Sara proved that well-directed passion, design, and an eye for what is wrong about “normal” can be turned into widely propagated, wonderfully appreciated, and successful work.
Amos proved that with engineering innovation, you can change the lives of millions in underdeveloped countries. Something intriguing that he said was that to make the same profit off of 400 wheelchairs sold in India, you need only sell a single wheelchair in America, and that is the only way for the Leveraged Freedom Chair to be profitable. But what does that matter. With this model, Amos creates an entirely viable business while still positively impacting the lives of millions who wouldn’t have had access to this technology otherwise.
On a more personal note, over the past week I have actually decided to take this next semester off, and the timing is as ideal as it will ever be. I want to take this time as an opportunity for effective self-reflection. I think it’s too easy to go to MIT and go through the motions until you’ve convinced yourself that a certain course of life is perfect for you (whether that’s grad school or working for Google or going into Finance), but what do these paths actually mean… what do they generate. I want to absorb everything I’ve seen in PPAT… truly absorb this experience for what it is, and most importantly, I want to thank PPAT for forcing me, for the first time, to question the actual value of what I imagined myself doing in the future, in my work. I want to figure out if I can turn this semester of tremendous gratification and fulfillment into a viable lifetime in the assistive world. Who knows, maybe I could be brave.