Branden Higby

Paleontology, Jobs, and Other Rambling Thoughts

Note: This was originally written for a Speech and Debate tournament and is in an early/ draft form. Please ignore any strange tenses or references to tournaments/ competitions.

Paleontologists are the first graders of the professional world.

Remember the dinosaur kids back in elementary school? Reading time, they had the dinosaur encyclopedia, lunch, dinosaur lunchbox. And at sleepovers they busted out the dinosaur pajamas, and you got to watch Land Before Time.

And if we go back to career day, back when every first grader was thinking about job security, and whether or not they’ll be able to stay on track with paying their mortgage, y’know since, kids are so intrinsically aware of the housing market, we’ll see veterinarians, painters, basketball players. And of course the dinosaur kid: boots, pink button down, khaki shorts, and accompanied with their T-rex plush best friend.

Yeah, that kid grew up to be exactly what he wanted to be: a dinosaur hunter.

Although it is a bit different in the real world.

So today, I’m going to be digging into what makes a professional first grader, why it’s a good thing, and then explore the overall effects of not loving what you do everyday.

To begin: dinosaur hunters, err, Paleontologists record and unravel vast, complex ecosystems from a world that is so drastically different from ours today through rocks and minerals.

Rocks and minerals.

They can look at a stone, and boom: where it lived, how tall it was, and who it’s best friend was.

They know this.

Oh and, uh, they also, COLLECT DINOSAUR BONES.

They do exactly what they imagined doing as kids. Walking into a brightly lit museum in shock, and awe, staring up at massive fossilized reconstructions. And suddenly it’s twenty years later and they’re searching the Earth for every last bone, before painstakingly assembling it and shipping it to a museum for a new kid to see and be inspired by.

So what makes a professional first grader? Well I already answered that. It means that you’re intensely curious, intensely passionate, about the things you do everyday. Everyday paleontologists wake up, excited for the day.

And of course other people are doing what they imagined they’d do as kids, the professional world isn’t full of dull office workers and some children running around with shovels, but a lot of the time you see people working to live as opposed to living to work.

There’s this strange thought process that you're not supposed to enjoy the very thing you do every single day. You wake up, go to work, and then get home desperately tired because you hate your job and you know you have to get up and do it again tomorrow because, although it’s an intriguing idea, you know that you couldn’t survive being destitute.

It’s frustrating.

And the only way for me to properly explain my frustrations is through poetry, so I will now read you a poem I wrote for just you:

After graduating college, my Aunt was sharp as a fox,

and made spreadsheets while working in a cubicle box,

but twenty years later, having used them near daily,

she still put in the same numbers so gravely,

And post meeting his counselor a million different times,

My Cousin’s career choice settled on studying enzymes,

so day in and day out he watches super hard,

and day in and day out he sadly punches his card,

Computer scientists have impossible hours,

old florists have got to be sick of the flowers,

and my poor own father hates working construction,

even Lego builders have to follow instructions,

From having degrees they all thought they'd be rich,

but turns out finding a job that’s worthwhile's a big undertaking

Let’s take a look at one of human’s most prevalent passions: competition.

It fuels everyone, I mean just look at where we are. But when it comes to the professional world, you only see people competing survive. "If we don’t innovate our pen caps we’ll all get fired and lose our jobs."

Compare this to paleontologists Othniel Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope, who, In the late 1800’s, began a petty rivalry against the other for paleolithic supremacy, spending their vast fortunes attempting to outdo each other in an intense race to discover more dinosaurs, which is without a doubt the coolest sentence I’ve ever said.

And while the two of them are notable for having discovered over 136 new dinosaurs combined, their work is more notable today for allowing us to reflect on ourselves. They filled their lives with their work, inspiring many others to as well, and they should be inspiring us too. All paleontologists should be.

It’s because, whether they were reconstructing their favorite dinosaur, racing to find more species, or just having fun digging in the dirt, they were doing what they love. And It’s unfortunate that we don’t see very many people doing that today, and it’s unfortunate that people our age aren’t encouraged to follow what we love, instead we’re encouraged to follow what’ll give us a comfortable life, what’ll give us a cushy desk job.

And that’s such an easy trap to fall in.

I’m so scared of letting my dreams go, of waking up everyday and hating my job. We should be doing what first-grade-us wanted: be a painter, play basketball, dig in the dirt.

My advice is this: Be PASSIONATE about what you do everyday. Because when you’re working to live, there's not a lot of time left for living.

So I raise my glass to the first graders of the professional world, those who love what they do everyday, and to those who brought their favorite plastic dinosaurs to show and tell.