Why a Nuclear Physicist Waits Tables at Olive Garden

I went to Olive Garden last night with the family, because we had a gift card. I'll admit, I wasn't expecting much. It had been years since I set foot in an Olive Garden.

Our server was an unusual dude. He was middle aged with disheveled hair. He was also having a great time. I was intrigued. As we talked to him a bit more, he explained he was a retired physics professor with a Masters degree from MIT and 39 patents for nuclear reactor design.

I quizzed him a bit, since one of my favorite pet side-subjects is thorium nuclear reactors. He knew about the designs and the politics of thorium reactors, so I'm assuming the rest of his story is true.

We didn't ask him why he was a server now, but, lucky for us, he volunteered it.

He said after a year of retirement, he was bored with himself. He wanted a job where he could get out of the house, meet people and still think about physics problems all day. This was the perfect solution.

I knew immediately what he meant.

The best job I ever had was working in the records department of a bank. I mindlessly fetched files all day and thought about topics like...nuclear reactors...or my next book. Having the freedom to think and still earn a paycheck was something I had not experienced before or since. I miss it sometimes (but not the size of the paycheck).

Einstein worked as a patent clerk. Isaac Newton worked at a mint. T.S. Eliot was a banker. Bram Stoker was a bureaucrat. Lots of artists and great thinkers had boring day jobs (see Jack Lynch's book Don't Quit Your Day Job).

I think about this whenever someone insists artists must follow their passions and make careers out of them.

Maybe you just need a paycheck and the freedom to enjoy what obsesses you.