Fall of 1987, I was a first semester grad student at Boston University. I was studying Bioorganic chemistry and doing my best as part of my graduate work to synthesize a t-butyl-tin-hydride, a substance cannot be be formed in the presence of oxygen. I spent several months trying to synthesize this material under nitrogen with very zero success and great frustration. The synthesis required more patience than I was blessed with at the time. The cleanup of the glassware also required more patience than I had and as a result, the was more than once instance where the person opening the glass dryer was blasted with the smell of tin (trust me, bad smell). There was pretty much no excuse for that, other than me just not being thorough enough at cleaning up.
Other than the lack of money ($836/month after taxes) I had enjoyed the grad student experience. I enjoyed being TA for the four sections of Chemistry for freshman engineers. I enjoyed the learning, but the lab life was not for me.
During the week, when the lab was busy, we used to have on a radio station in the lab played a number of songs from 60s. California Dreaming was heavy in the rotation. I had heard that song many times growing up and during my four years at a small liberal arts college in Whittier, California. I heard that song with a very different ear living in Boston. It always sang out to me when it was on the radio.
One Saturday in the lab I put in a then relatively new Grateful Dead tape made during a concert in Red Rock in Colorado. During the song Playing in the Band, I heard Bobby Weir sing the words I had heard so many time before, “I can tell your future, just look what’s in your hands“. In my hands at that exact moment was a round-bottom flask of NOT t-butyl-tin-hydride. Something clicked and I decided to go back to California at the end of the semester.
One of the first things I did after that decision was to write away for mail order tickets to see The Dead in Oakland for the New Year’s show 1988. After finals were graded and scores turned in, I made the drive across the country from Boston to LA via the Southern route, passing through New York, Philly, Washington D.C., Tennessee, the Texas Pan Handle, and New Mexico. I stopped in Las Vegas to say hello to my mom and then I was off to Oakland.
Within four months, I found a job at a company I have been with for going on 25 years. I don’t regret moving to Boston or the time that spent there trying to find myself. Truth is, part of me was happy there, but a big part of me wasn’t. I am glad that I at least tried grad school life. I ultimately went on to get my MBA much later in life and I am happy with that decision.
There aren’t many huge decisions in life. If and where one goes to college, who one chooses to marry and where in the world to live are pretty much the big ones.
So, what were the moments in your life when it clicked, and you knew you had to make a change?