Particle Fever

December 20, 2014 by Joshua
in Education, Nature

Do you miss an activity you used to feel passionate about, used to work hard on, but don’t do anymore?

When you feel inspired, you work hard, sometimes very hard, often long hours, often sacrificing other things you would otherwise enjoy. Then when you look back you miss how inspired you felt. You’d rather feel that way and sacrifice again than to have free time or enjoy mild pleasure. You might not feel like you want to go through the process of making it happen, but you know that feeling and you love it.

The other day I watched a documentary, Particle Fever, about the high energy particle accelerator in Geneva called the Large Hadronic Collider, some people who helped build it and interpret its results, and its search for a particle called the Higgs Boson. I used to work at Fermilab, the collider that before the LHC was the frontier.

I still love physics but I don’t actively practice it. The people in the movie are nerdy, which when I did physics I was uncomfortable with, but now I don’t judge or mind if others do. In other words, I wouldn’t feel the social stigma I did then.

I miss the incredible intellectual challenge and intellectual discussions about the complexities of measuring, understanding, and explaining the simplicities of nature. I’m full of passion now about teaching leadership, whose rewards are as great as those of physics, but they’re different, so I miss some of what I gave up. In physics I followed in the footsteps of the greatest geniuses of all time. I solved hard problems. I worked with the simple and beautiful language of math.

My understanding of the physics in the movie are thirty years behind on the experimental side and probably eighty years behind on the theory side. By compressing years of effort into ninety minutes, the movie neglects the boredom of waiting and struggling with problems you can’t figure out how to solve, which made practicing physics challenging.

It’s interesting when you leave one passion and find another. As much as I miss the intellectual challenges and rewards, I don’t miss that lifestyle. I value the emotional risks I took to grow so that when I see them doing things I used to, not because I liked it but because I didn’t know better, or even that alternatives existed, I cringe. I enjoy life more and I think I help others enjoy theirs more now and don’t think I could have reached that point if I stayed in physics.

I guess I just have to discover and share discoveries in leadership that change the world and people value as much or more than I would have found in physics.

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