I was about to be dumped. The dumper was an adorable woman who seemed to be searching for a free pass to move on. Over the past month, she had gradually made it clear that I had not made the grade and was history. But, unfortunately, I wasn’t getting the message. Finally, in apparent desperation, she seemed to hit on a golden idea. She looked at me and asked, “Well, tell me then, what is your goal in life. What is it that you want to achieve?”
I thought about this for a long moment, and just as she was about to pounce on my indecision blurted out, “I’d like to make the world a better place.”
Conflicting emotions showed briefly on her face—first, amusement that I had a goal, then displeasure. As a junior professor on the make for tenure track positions, sentiment was not too important. Good biting analysis, publications, and presentations were. However, I had just confirmed her opinion that I was a sentimental loser.
With lots of trepidation, I had expressed this goal. Despite anthropology being the scientific study of humanity, I developed a belief that some colleagues took a dispassionate view of the objects of study. The look on my lover’s face said I was right; I was too attached to sentiment for her goals.
All these years later, I celebrate that moment. I hadn’t thought about what it was I was going to say when she asked me. I sort of reached way back, and that was what I pulled out. It came from the congealed rabbit’s warren in the back of my mind. But it glowed like a little golden nugget.
Over the next several years, I turned that nugget over. I examined it countless times, and it led me into a career as a practicing anthropologist creating cultural and educational programs.
The loss of my lover was painful, but I’ve always remained grateful that she forced me to dig in and find what was most important.