Don't confuse consuming and producing

I’m trying to figure out what to do with my life. Give me your thoughts.

Michael Idov writes in his piece Bitter Brew in Slate:

I never realized how ubiquitous the dream of opening a small coffeehouse was until I fell under its spell myself. It seemed that just about every boho-professional couple had indulged in this fantasy at some point or another.

The dream of running a small cafe has nothing to do with the excitement of entrepreneurship or the joys of being one’s own boss—none of us would ever consider opening a Laundromat or a stationery store… The small cafe connects to the fantasy of throwing a perpetual dinner party… To a couple in the throes of the cafe dream, money is almost an afterthought. Which is good, because they’re going to lose a lot of it.

This article is the story of a young married couple who decide to run a cute little coffee shop (in New York, but any big city’ll do). They’re enamoured with the idea of it, not because they want financial independence, to set their own hours or to be their own boss(es), but because they’ve fallen in love with the notion that providing that service will be just as fun as consuming it.

The thing is, running a coffee shop is nothing like drinking lattes in a coffee shop. It’s gruelling, expensive and hugely risky. That’s why so many people fail—because they were in love with an aspect of the job that doesn’t exist.

My love of science, of biology and biogerontology and finding practical ways of slowing ageing can be subjected to a similar analysis. I’ve made the mistake of thinking that reading about/talking about/enjoying the fruits of scientific advance will be just as fun as actually doing the benchwork myself.

It’s the distinction between what you do day-to-day and the narrative you invent to describe your job—a distinction I’ve been deliberately (if unconsciously) blurring by describing my work in a biogerontology lab as making a grand contribution to understanding and ending ageing. It’s a great story but it’s not the truth, and wouldn’t be even if I had some scintillating project analysing rat brain ageing or dietary restriction in flies. I would still be a technician, just like the coffee shop owner is still a vendor and not a coffee connoisseur.

I could just as easily enjoy science from afar, and that way, I might be able to stay a consumer.