I saw this story about fruit flies and sex on NPR’s website this morning, and it brought me back to the days of my first job in college. Breeding fruit flies. I made it happen. Well, not really, because apparently it’s the smell of rotting fruit that really makes it happen. But I helped. My bosses ran a genetics research laboratory, and sadly I can’t honestly even tell you what bigger picture genius they were aiming for in their research. They might have been fighting cancer as the fruit of my labor with these little buggers. All I knew at the time was that I came in every day to boxes containing vial after vial of many different lines of fruit flies. Each vial contained rotting banana at the bottom, and that’s where the squirmy larvae would grow and eventually hatch. Sure enough, after a week or so of transferring a mini swarm of flies into a new vial, the larvae would appear, followed by the next generation of little Justins and Annas. (Apologies if your name is Justin or Anna. I chose these names with no particular people in mind!) Sometimes, not many youngin’s would appear, and there might be only two or three flies in a new vial that should have ideally contained at least ten or so. My job was then to look to see if there was at least one male and one female (distinguished by the rounder abdomen of the male, as opposed to the longer, pointier abdomen of the female), transfer those two into a new vial, and pray that they would find each other attractive enough to want to make new baby larvae together. Other times, a vial would contain just a handful of some lethargic, sickly-looking flies. If that was the case, I would bring the vial to my boss who would immediately put the vial into the fruitfly ICU. I never actually knew what that meant. Did they get intubated? Were their wings restrained for awhile so they could conserve energy? Were they sedated with the fruitfly version of Versed? Alas. It wasn’t a glorious job, and it took me awhile to master the art of transferring flies from one vial to another without losing the whole swarm when I removed the cotton ball cork from the original vial. I was surrounded by unintentionally freed flies a lot in my first couple weeks on the job and probably bred some mutant strains as a result, but eventually I got the hang of it.
So anyhow, if you’ve actually read this far, I owe you a cup of coffee or something just for indulging me in my crazy and somewhat disgusting reminiscence. All this to say, I sure have come a long way in articulating my career goals and moving towards them. I am certain that my boss in the fruitfly research lab knew I wan’t planning to make a long-term career out of it. But I was there to work, and to work honestly. To learn how to be responsible with coming in when I was supposed to come in, show respect to my bosses and coworkers, and breed those little bugs to the best of my ability.
I remember looking for another part-time job during college, and hearing from a friend how she had really enjoyed working at Olive Garden as a food server. I didn’t know the slightest thing about food service, and I was so shy and awkward at the time, I was certainly not really cut out for it. Plus the fact that I had very few interviewing skills under my belt. I remember randomly walking into a local Olive Garden that had a sign posted, “Hiring Now!” The manager sat down with me and asked, “So, why do you want to go into food service?” My answer? “…Ummm…. I don’t know….” Needless to say, he kept that interview short and I never heard from him again.
I am grateful that through the course of much soul-searching, a number of very different experiences in different kinds of work, and not a small amount of tears, I have come to a place where I know with 110% certainty that I love what I do, and I have the privilege and opportunity to actually do it. Sometimes it’s so hard to see where the road is taking us, but there are lessons to be learned with each unexpected stop and detour along the way if we are open to them. Moving forward through the rougher patches on the road helps to clarify and refine our desires, and it makes the reaching of our goals that much sweeter. Don’t get me wrong; my job is not my life, nor is it my identity. But I do find it so wonderfully fulfilling. Yes, believe it or not, even more fulfilling than bringing new fruit flies into the world.