One of my poorly defined goals for 2008 is to start spending more of my time working on projects that improve the lives of others in direct ways. I’ve been a technologist, developer and data geek for 11 years now, and over time my work has trended away from socially meaningful projects. As I alluded to in a previous post, in undergrad I was very concerned with social justice. When I graduated in 1997, I worked at the National Center for Health Statistics, doing research on social/economic/racial disparities in health among the US population.
This research was fascinating and challenging on many different levels, but the pay wasn’t that great and, to be honest, I became fairly jaded about what sort of impact my work was having on anyone’s life. After a year and a half, I switched up my priorities, moved to SF and started working on far less interesting projects for far more money. See the illustration below:
That spike in income (and dip in interest) around 2001 is when I made the move from health care to finance. When the income flatlines around 2003, that’s grad school. Clearly I was engaged in my work at that time, but also racking up the debt. The point here is that I’d like to see that “Interest in Work” line stronger, even if it means my income dips a bit. After ten years of working in the corporate world, I’m finding that my initial happiness with a fat paycheck is ebbing. I need a mission in my life, as my uncle would say.
So this year I started taking on projects that are a bit more meaningful, but not very lucrative. For example, my work with the Obama campaign (discussed here):
Working on this campaign has really underscored my need to work on projects I believe in. Obama’s call to action, to get involved and effect positive change, has certainly spurred me along. But it’s no secret how I feel about him (Click on the chart for a larger image).
At any rate, that work is starting to wind down a bit, and I’m looking for another project. Yesterday I was in yoga class and the instructor mentioned that there is a Yoga Challenge starting May 1st. The challenge is to do 30 or 60 consecutive days of Bikram Yoga, and raise money for a cause. Kind of like a Team In Training deal, but instead of running or biking, you’re sweating your ass off and stretching out.
The cause this year is Larkin Street Youth Services, a local non-profit organization dedicated to getting street kids off the street and pointed in the right direction. If you’ve been to SF, you know there are tons of little street rats running around (about 5,700 according to Larkin Street), often jacked up on meth, dropped out of school, and basically going in a very bad direction.
If you’ve known me for a while, you know I was basically going in this direction in high school, and if it wasn’t for a couple of solid teachers and grown ups, and a bit of luck, I might not have seen my way through it. So I have a personal story that aligns with this program, and I walk past one of the offices every day on my way to yoga, and of course see the kids on the street.
Here are some statistics from the pamplet I picked up yesterday in class (can you tell I’m enjoying playing with Google Charts? Click on the chart for a larger image.)
So the organization is a good one, the Yoga Challenge is daunting but fun (I really like that studio and the people there, so spending 1.5 hours with them every day for a month is hardly a bad thing). Once I sign up and get the details on donations, I’ll be soliciting everyone I know to contribute. I might even post a comment back here linking to more information. No pressure, of course. This isn’t the ‘mission’ I mentioned above, but it’s something I can do to improve the lives of others, while doing something very healthy and positive for myself, so what the hell? Fighting the good fight…