The principal goal of education is to create men who are capable of doing new things, not simply of repeating what other generations have done.
— Jean Piaget
My father taught me that the purpose of life was to relieve the suffering of others and make the world a better place in which to live. He achieved that as an engineer, designing schools and colleges in Michigan. He passed that passion on to me and I hope I have passed it on to my own children.
I spent some thirty years in academic research and the pharmaceutical industry, collaborating with a fantastic group of highly skilled scientists in a closely knit team environment. Working in industry gave me an opportunity to carry out experiments that would not have been possible in many other situations. The work was challenging and rewarding.
In 2012, I was given the opportunity to leave the company. Much as I loved my work, my heart was no longer in it. I had become increasingly uncomfortable with “big research” and began to doubt the value of the enterprise. I very much wanted to strike out on my own. It was a fearful step, but I believed that it was time to pursue my own interests as a “free agent.”
What did I want to do? I wanted to follow out my dreams, to pursue my passion in life. Somehow, I knew that my passion was linked to making a difference in the world. I found a great deal of guidance on the web, but was unable to find a place that gave me the guidance I needed to prepare me to go in a new direction.
I did not know how to get started or what to do first. I chatted with several of my colleagues, who also found themselves without a job close to home. All of them had chosen a career in drug discovery so that they might make a small contribution to finding new drugs to cure disease. They wanted to make a difference in the world.
Yet, the company, in order to maximize profit, had made a “strategic decision” to close our research site. The decision was purely economic. It was too expensive to maintain a large number of research sites; some needed to close. A few scientists had the opportunity to move; many could not or would not. Their ability to “make a difference” had imploded, not because of any failure of their own, but because their dreams were tied to corporate decisions.
This experience further confirmed in me the idea, which I had long held, that we need to be independent. Institutions, such as the corporations for whom we work or the state schools where we send our children, do not always operate in our best interests. The first exists to maximize profits; the second to cater to the competing needs of local and state bureaucracies.
I had already made the decision to homeschool my son during his middle and high school years. But, I remained tied to the purse-strings of industry, afraid to become independent myself. Now was my opportunity to be as bold with my career as I had been with his.
Thus arose a set of ideas that drove my passion: we need to prepare ourselves to make a difference in the world; it is never too late to make a change in your life for the better; and, the American values of self-reliance, independence, freedom, and morality should drive our decisions.
It is my fervent hope and prayer that what I discovered will be as useful and energizing to you as it has been to me.
Peace be with you,
Larry R. McLean, Ph.D.