The good fight

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:

Chart of Interesting Work and Income Over Time

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):

Obama Work

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).

I Heart Obama

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.)

Ethnicity Distribution of Street Kids in SF

Gender Distribution of Street Kids in SF

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…

47 responses to “The good fight”

  1. Alex says:

    Its good that we prefer jobs of high standard. But it is equally important that we have our responsibility towards our country men. If you are interested in researching on different projects its good for the betterment of the country as the diseases would decrease and can take out solutions for some dangerous ones.

  2. lane says:

    great charts and graphs, just what TGW needs, more charts.

    especially pie charts.

  3. ssw says:

    In NYC there is a disproportionate number of youth in foster care as well as on the streets who identify as GLBTQ. I know you don’t specifically chart this, but I wondered if you are aware whether or not SF is similar to NYC in this regard. It is a very high-need, high-risk population in need of support.

  4. ssw says:

    Btw, I totally agree that acknowledging where you are financially as well as analyzing your connectedness/happiness factor to the work you’re doing is critical. However, that said, I think that many of us would also do well to reinvent our jobs within our job, rather than just look elsewhere. Can you identify parts that you can control/change/ask for and get more of that work within the company/role rather than necessarily make more drastic shifts. Also, I know it puts me on the map that there is the possibility to “love what you do.” Some people do a certain job to then be freed up to do what they love. Some people don’t have the luxury of asking any of the BIG satisfaction questions (ehem, most of the country) but still find ways to love their work (think about a bus driver who learns all the kids names, as an example). I had a colleague once who didn’t really value what he did all day, he saw his life as starting after 5. I thought that was sad, especially since he had talent, resources, options…why couldn’t he be doing what he loved and make money at it? I think that’s probably evolved for him from his perspective when we were in our 20s, but I wanted to feel that way even then, and moreso now. Kudos to you for exploring your passions and keeping in tune with yourself about your life’s work, one of the KEY areas of fulfillment/purpose, other than relationships/love and a sense of community.


  5. Natasha says:

    I’ve looked at the foster care programs as well as adoptions, unfortunately, there is no way in this world I can pull adopting or fostering right now. But there are many orphanages in the area where children need attention and care more than anything else. Children do not get hugged and babies do not get picked up enough. In one of the orphanages a baby had a flat back of the head because he stayed in his crib all day. My heart breaks to see these things. I have been looking into raising money through my business to establish more programs to help children and elderly. If you think of an idea, let me know, I’ll be the first one in line.

  6. Dave says:

    Like Lane, I loved the graphs. And it’s cool to hear about what you’re up to.

  7. Brooke Maury says:

    #3 – Those numbers are available for SF. Here’s the chart. Basically about 30% of the street youth identify as something other than straight. I wonder what it is in NY?

    #4 – I couldn’t agree more about re-inventing parts of one’s work to make it more meaningful/interesting. I guess in some ways that’s what I’m doing. And you’re also totally right about how fortunate I am/we are that we have the privilege to make these kinds of decisions. Most of the world and most of the country is concerned with the basic needs. In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, I’m sitting pretty (man, this is a sweet day for charts! Yay charts!). In that pyramid, I’m probably moving among the top three areas, whereas much of the world is in the bottom tier.

  8. lane says:

    and nothing makes you feel more lettermanesque than writing (or saying)


    very midwestern, very ironic, very 80’s

    oh, and while I’m at it, i met david byrne a couple weeks ago and invited him to see my show.

    he took the invite and said “Oh Roebling Hall, yeah I go there”

    and whatdaya know, the next day in my book was the signature of his sweet, and strangely ageless, ladyfriend,

    Cindy Sherman.

    how’s that for pie!

  9. The Other James says:

    Working for forces of good . . . Hooray! The world needs more of that.

    About your slight distaste for Obama’s position on gay marriage: As a concept, ‘marriage’ is fraught with problems. It invokes heteronormative gender relations & labor divisions, conservative definitions of family, patriarchy, religion, I could go on. I, for one, would far prefer ‘civil unions’ for everyone, ‘partners’ rather than ‘husbands & wives,’ ‘husbands and husbands,’ ‘wives and wives,’ ‘whatever and whatever.’ While Barack likely supports marriage precisely because he’s straight and Christian, he also (as far as I understand it) supports civil unions, which (theoretically) provide the same rights and obligations as marriages, but without the patriarchal, heteronormative slant.

    Anyway, there’s my two cents.

    And by the way, I love Barack Obama.

  10. brooke says:

    Lane – that’s awesome! I think David Byrne loves himself some pie charts too. And I agree with you. What’s more awesome than pie charts? I’ll have to hazard a guess and say the only thing more better is a 3D pie chart

  11. brooke says:

    #9 – I actually have a pretty strong aversion to Obama’s take on gay marriage, although I agree completely with your comments about marriage. I think ‘marriage’ should be fully placed into the religious sphere and have no legal definition, and that any two people wanting to unite legally (say, for health care or taxes or just to express a commitment to one another or whatever) could do so via a civil union.

    But I take issue with Obama’s position on same-sex marriage. He even went so far as to make sure he wasn’t photographed with Gavin Newsom during the same-sex marriage ‘controversy’ out here in SF.

    With that said, his position isn’t any different from Clinton’s and I think overall he’s more likely to find a workable solution on that issue. Plus, I think he’s open to the possibility that he’s got the marriage issue dead wrong (which he does). In his book, he said he was “open to the possibility that my unwillingness to support gay marriage is misguided … I may have been infected with society’s prejudices and predilections and attributed them to God.”


  12. LP says:

    9: Civil unions don’t actually provide the same rights as marriages; it’s not just a question of what term you choose to use Also,.if Obama were opposed to gay marriage because he opposes the “patriarchal, heteronormative slant,” that would be one thing, but that’s not why he does it. I suspect he personally does support gay marriage, but knows it won’t fly politically. And I say this as an Obama supporter.

  13. Tim says:

    Very interesting post, Brooke. I like the idea of being able to chart one’s life out like you have. I’m going to have to give it a try.

    As luck would have it, my current day job (well, the teaching is at night, but it’s still my day job) is both lucrative (for part-time teaching) and interesting, good work. That’s hardly ever been the case in my life, so I plan on holding onto this one until my night job (generally performed during the day) pays well enough.

  14. brooke says:

    #12. I suspect you may be right re: Obama’s thoughts. Just curious – do you have an opinion on making civil unions the legal definition of partnership, regardless of the genders involved, and having marriage be something people do in a church or mosque or on the stupid beach or whatever, if they so choose, as a spiritual ceremony? I’m enamored of this idea but I’m curious to hear other’s thoughts.

  15. And I say this as an Obama supporter.

    I think we should just start throwing this out in general conversation from now until November. Use it as punctuation.

  16. brooke says:

    Bryan, thank you! This will be my new mission, and I say this as an Obama supporter.

  17. swells says:

    Brooke, I hecka heart your juicy charts, and pie too, and I fear learning too late that Obama is a chumpy cheese secret conservative Christian nuthin, and I say that as an Obama supporter.

  18. omar says:

    Indeed, swells, indeed…

  19. trixie says:

    i just want to remind everyone after this charming and thought-provoking post that i am a first degree relative of brooke maury. and i say this as an obama supporter.

  20. trixie says:

    also, i want to do yoga for 60 days in a row for a good cause. any volunteers to babysit william while i am out sweating?

  21. Tim says:

    any volunteers to babysit william while i am out sweating?

    That’s what she said as an Obama supporter!

  22. LP says:

    #14: Absolutely. It’s the word “marriage” and its religious connotations that gum up this issue to begin with. If the government — a civil entity — simply offered a civil union to couples, with the “marriage” left to churches or whomever, it would solve a lot of problems.

    #17 = my favorite comment of the year.

    Nice post, Brooke. I hecka heart your juicy charts, too.

  23. MF says:

    I had a similar interest in transitioning into an occupation that would offer more outward-looking betterment.
    On September 11, 2007, I received a job offer to work as an organization transformation consultant for the integration of the police, fire and medical emergency call centers in NYC.
    “Wow, a way to help public safety. In my town. In MY town!”
    The project is a direct response to the events of 2001. I couldn’t believe my luck at being able to do something about it.

    Aside from a summer internship at the office of the governor of Massachusetts during college, I had never worked in public service. My clients had always been top-ten banks, high-tech companies and pharmaceuticals. I had no appreciation for how my life would change.

    Within days, I was being yelled at, ignored, insulted, punished and humiliated. My efforts were called generic, useless and unforgiveably ignorant to my clients’ needs. I felt as deflated as a popped baloon.

    And it only got worse.

    My only salvation over the months was early morning long (very long) walks in Prospect Park with my dog. I’d breath in the cool air, watch the sunrise and build up some stamina for the beating I was surely going to get during the day.

    Two weeks ago I had the worst meeting of my career. I left swearing that I’d never return (and just plain swearing). Public safety and NYC be damned, I was going back to my comfortable for-profit clients. I’d stop yelling at people in the subway. I’d stop watching “Without a Trace” re-runs in complete numbness at the end of the day. I’d start working out again. Salvation…

    …except, I had to run a workshop the next day. No one else was prepared to do it and I wasn’t prepared to break a committment without a reasonable substitute.

    It went well. The next day went well, too. Somehow, I managed to show up for the next two weeks. Each day got progressively more productive and reasonable. I decided to stay. (Not sure why, yet, but I’ll keep you updated.)

    Today is six months since I joined this project. I question the value I have added to the world–or at least NYC–as yet, but maybe it’s there. Maybe it’s only marginally more than it would have been if I had stayed in corporate services. Maybe not. I can say with confidence that the personal sacrifice has been greater than the quantifiable benefit to the city.

    But maybe it’s just the start. Maybe it’s a steep slope and I’ll have more to offer as I learn how to make things happen in public service. Who knows. Maybe I just picked the wrong public service to participate in. I don’t know.

    You sound like you have found some gratifying ways to spend your time. I look forward to hearing more about them.

  24. MF says:

    And I say this as a not-quite-committed-to-Obama-yet-but-likely-to-give-up-on-a-woman-in-the-white-house-after-i-start-reading-newspapers-again supporter.

  25. MF says:

    I’m going over to Fresh Salt now. to my NYC friends (who are benefiting from my suffering, so you’s better come drink with me) who might be in area… they set out the tables today.

  26. trixie says:

    i wish i could meet you there for a drink.
    i miss you!

  27. brooke says:

    Swells, thanks for the nice words (that was me being omar from The Wire yesterday, in case you weren’t sure. I’m on the 2nd season so don’t say anything…)

    MF -That’s exactly what I’m afraid of happening, of getting into something less lucrative and more stressful and then realizing that maybe I don’t actually give that big of a shit after all, or feeling like I’m doing all this work and not really making a difference. That’s kind of how I felt at NCHS. But in retrospect, that research was useful, it’s just hard to see the forest for the trees when you’re in the thick of it. Sounds like the project you’re working on is challenging (to say the least). Do keep me updated! I’ll do the same. If I was in NY, I’d buy you a shot at Fresh Salt.

  28. 28: sorry we missed you, MF. we were watching slade’s kid sing in a school musical. well done, young man.

  29. Willo says:

    Your charts are so geekyfantastic, Brooke! The ‘cheese’ had me laughing out loud.

    The statistics on ethnicity were surprising to me… I would have never guessed that was the distribution. Very interesting.

    I love that you’re into helping the youth. I too had some tough stuff in high school and feel really lucky to have made it through without a scratch (aka baby or some f*d up drug habit or something). Kids need love & guidance, and I am thankful there are organizations out there committed to helping the lost ones.

    Also reading this completely makes me want to do yoga.

    I am thoroughly enjoying your articles… thank you for turning me on to The Great Whatsit! Plus, it’s rare to find a site where the comments are also so well written, and contribute so well to the larger conversation, that they too are enjoyable to read! Keep it up. xo

  30. hey willo! thanks for saying such nice things. thanks for linking through, too — your site is full of cool stuff — love those whale Ts. all you folks with TGW babies out there ought to drop and and check out the “shop” tab.

    and i say this as a brooke maury supporter.

  31. brooke says:

    Thanks Willo! I agree re: the comments here – the conversation is always lively and enlightening. You’ll probably really enjoy the Thursday playlists, too. Many of the posters and readers are deep into music, among other things.

  32. trixie says:

    ok, i just need to tell everyone this.
    so i have been into volunteering for barack lately- we have been hosting people at our house- volunteers from around the country in for our primary, and i have been making food and taking it over to the headquarters for the people working in the office. nothing too impressive compared to the hours that a hundreds of other people have put into the campaign (including my brother).
    but, somehow, i ended up as the person that HQ decided would be the “perfect” person to INTRODUCE BARACK OBAMA TONIGHT HERE IN PHILLY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    the sad part? i didn’t have my cell phone with me, missed the call, and they found someone else.

  33. LP says:

    Whoa, Trixie!!!! That would have been so awesome — you could have worn your TGW t-shirt!! So sorry you missed the call!

    And I say this as a Trixie-introducing-Barack-in-Philly supporter.

  34. Dave says:

    ZOMG Trixie.

  35. LT says:

    Trixie, that’s, like, amazing in an ‘almost’ sort of way.

  36. lane says:

    awe shit, that sucks you missed the call.

    SO great they thought of you, you must be flattered.

    keep up the good work!

  37. trixie says:

    ok so we just got back from the rally. it really was just some random volunteer that introduced him. i am not really into celebrity worship but he gave her a big hug and stuff and i was kind of jealous. but i also felt flattered that i was considered. there were 35 thousand people at the rally tonight. farrell and i (and a bunch of friends that we happened to run into) we lucky enough to have gotten “VIP” tickets which meant that we were just feet from him when he gave his speech. it was honestly one of the most invigorating things i have ever experienced, and i am not going to toot my own horn, but that is actually saying a lot. that said, i am going to bed now.
    and i am saying this as an obama supporter who makes sandwiches.

  38. trixie says:

    i meant WERE lucky enough
    better go to sleep now
    ps we’re almost done with a massive renovation project. i might post soon about it.
    also, if you are within 6000 miles, please stop in for a visit

  39. AW says:

    I really enjoyed this post and the comments that follow. Great analysis about money/job satisfaction/making a contribution and how it has played out in your life. But I especially love the way you just put your desire to “start spending more of my time working on projects that improve the lives of others in direct ways” out there. And then you go do it. Rock on.

  40. G-Lock says:

    Ugh, Trixie. My heart is broken over your missed call. And you know why my heart had already been broken from earlier in the week in re: a cool event in Philly.

    But I am so glad you guys got such proximity to the big O. Awesome!!! His debate performance was slightly rocky on Wednesday but he’ll still hold his own on Tuesday.

  41. swells says:

    TRIX!!! Gawd!! SO close!!! I wish that our nextdoorness had already begun so that I could be helping you with the sandwiches. Congrats on getting SO close, and if I ever needed introducing, I would choose you to do it. You Maurys . . . it’s like Hussein is your middle name, and I say that as an Obama supporter.

  42. brooke says:

    UPDATE: The challenge has begun and it’s already kicking my ass. If you’re interested in donating some money or what have you, please head on over to my blog and read this post for details.

    On a related note, it’s a good thing I’m leaving the west coast soon as I’m getting dangerously close to a west coast softy. Shameful!

  43. trixie says:

    I’m getting dangerously close to a west coast softy.

    that’s. what. she. said.

  44. swells says:

    do you just lie in wait for them, or what?

  45. trixie says:

    it’s scott’s fault.
    yes i do.

  46. Scott(y) says:

    yes i do

    that’s what she said.

    And what’s with everyone calling me “Scott” now? What happened to the “y?” You are the only people to ever call me “Scotty,” and it took me a while to get used to, but now that I am…

    And what the hell happened to Cynthia?