Monday, January 18, 2016

Why do anything hard?

I've been thinking a lot lately about why we choose to do difficult things.  Some things we simply have to do.  For some people, getting up everyday for work is difficult.  Others may find themselves in life-or-death situations where the choice is clear.  However, many of us choose to do what is hard when it is not necessary.

Who has not seen a jogger out in shorts on a cold morning and thought, "Why is he doing that?" For that is surely a choice, one that most people, driving by in heated cars, would not make.  But for the jogger, there is no choice.  Like mountain climbers, joggers do it because "it is there."

Some hard choices are made out of love.  I once gave a kidney to a relative.  I don't choose surgery easily, but I felt the benefits to her outweighed the risks to me.  Following my divorce, years ago, I chose to stay in the town where my children grew up, though other parts of the country beckoned to me.  Again, I balanced their need for stability at a vulnerable time in their lives against my desire to start anew elsewhere.  Both things were hard. I regret neither.

Sometimes it is the challenge of the thing itself that drives us.  My significant other has endured numerous surgeries to continue as a competitive fencer and coach. At 73, he still teaches five nights a week.  Other choices are made out of duty.  People join the armed services out of duty.  Some people take care of elderly relatives more out of duty than love.  Still others choose a difficult task because it needs to be done and no one else is doing it.

I recently took on such a task. I decided to write a layman's guide to a class of rare genetic disorders. My goal is for it to be useful to both patients and their primary care doctors.  My research for this project keeps me humble.  For every time I think I understand my subject, I look up one last thing only to find myself scrambling down yet another complex rabbit hole of a tangent.  At times this is exhilarating, at other times it is discouraging. I often feel like Alice - sometimes 10 feet tall, other times, very small. It is the nature of the hard task.

No one is making me do this.  I am not being paid to do this.  I anticipate that I will find a publisher but I hold out no hope for monetary reward anywhere near commensurate with my efforts. I am doing this out of love for my grandson, who has such a disorder. I am doing it because, like the mountain, it is there.  Mostly, I am doing it because I think I am the best person to do it.

I am not an academic, though I am smart.  I am not a scientist, though I worked in the sciences for years in an auxiliary role. What I am is someone who has spent her career digesting complex subjects and making them accessible to the appropriate audiences.  I have written about the natural history of lily pads, about backroom political deals, about animal behaviors, about drug addiction, homelessness, veteran issues and more.  I am also someone who has heard the pleas of parents for more information, for explanations they can understand, for the right questions for them to ask.  I have the skills, the desire, and the time.  I do this by choice.

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