A Hard Lesson On Money

Throughout my early life until age of twenties, I didn’t know what money was or what money meant. I was very fortunate that everything that I needed was there for me. My family was slightly above middle class, but we lived within our means, and no extravagance of any sorts. Because of my father’s profession and bring-up, he was materialistic in the sense that he placed great importance on money, while I was always his antagonist, taking the opposite side of despising money. And like many Asian families, my father and mother have always wanted me to become a medical doctor mostly for the sake of earning more money. I am filial mostly, except that I never wanted to become a doctor which seemed to be a dull profession and study to me. Oftentimes, only until you lose something, you won’t realize its importance. That is my case on money.

By the time I attended graduate school, I was quite lucky to be almost financially independent, earning a tuition scholarship and a living stipend for my expenses. My future seemed bright. But the wheel of fortune turned, and my luck was shifting for the worst. Because of my insistence on non-significance of the experimental results based upon my understanding of the theory of signal processing, my thesis advisor laid me off from his payroll. While I was on my one-week summer break for family reunion, he asked me to plot out all existing experimental results and seemingly significant plots. Then after receiving all plots, he letted me go without any communications to me whatsoever. I went on working for an entire summer for another professor who only had empty promises of money to me, while the payroll account has never been created. I thought the payroll clerk almost wanted to cry for me when I went there for the eighth time. Yeah, so many lies in the ivory tower of academia. I experienced firsthand that it’s not scientific truth but money that really matters. To obtain research funding is more important than getting to scientific truth for some people.

After realizing that I no longer had enough money for myself, not to mention others, I stopped my regular contribution to my favorite charity organization ChildReach sorrowfully. Later, I spent another year of fruitless scientific research with just tuition support but no stipends. Because of the lack of significant results in my thesis research along that year, I started to fear that I wouldn’t be able to graduate with my master degree. Up to that point of my life, I had dedicated myself to becoming a scientific researcher. I dreamed of becoming a scientist since I read my first book on dinosaurs at the age of six. Yet, I was facing a real prospect of not being able to get my master degree after two years of work. And because of the narrow field that I had chosen, there was very little chance of finding a non-academic job. So there I was, almost at the end of the “tunnel”, after spending almost 18 hopeful years of my life, having chosen a degree that I thought I could contribute most to the scientific studies without any regards to money, but facing with the prospect of a failed master degree program, nil job prospect, and a dim, aborted future.

Closer to the end of my master program, my depression was so serious that I was losing physical senses. One time I went to become a “guinea pig” for tactile experiments to earn some bucks. The experiment involved using thin needles poking lightly your hands and fingers to see if you could sense it. The Ph.D student who did the experiment took extra long on me, and when she walked me out, she kept telling me not too worried about not being able to feel the pokings as if I was an experimental anomaly. I literally couldn’t feel much of those pokings.

With extra three summer months of delays, I finally graduated with my master degree. I was the last one to graduate in my class, partially because my third thesis advisor wanted to extract the last remaining free labor from me. After going through such ordeals, I gave up my lifelong dream of becoming a scientific researcher in academia. I didn’t know what I wanted to be anymore. But for the first time, I decided that whatever I wanted to be, I would put money at a higher priority. I didn’t want to stop my sponsoring contribution to ChildReach again. I didn’t want to let my family or potential future family to live a sub-standard life because of lack of money, simply because I could live with less. If I cannot take care of myself financially, then I can never take care of others. Here I would like to share a quote from one of my favorite books, Karma Yoga by Swami Vivekanada (p.27):

A householder (as opposed to a monk) who does not struggle to get wealth is immoral. If he is lazy and content to lead an idle life, he is immoral, because upon him depend hundreds. If he gets riches, hundreds of others will be thereby supported.

Earning money is a responsibility. Acquiring and distributing wealth is a duty to the poors, according to the ideals of Karma Yoga.

P.S. After my first master degree, I couldn’t find a job. I went on to get my second master degree which was much better for job & money. I had finished two bachelor degrees in the same two fields in three years, and was planning to get my Ph.D in four or five years. But I ended up getting two master degrees in another three years. All of my high school and college classmates were so surprised that I did not get a Ph.D degree. When they ask why, I just say, “sometimes, your best efforts are just not good enough, and then you just have to change and move on.”

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