In this season's The Big Bang Theory, Penny (finally) abandons her dream of becoming a famous Hollywood actress, gets a job as a sales rep for a pharmaceutical company, and can actually pay her bills and live comfortably.
|She looks so responsible now!|
I found this shift to be interesting. Usually, television will boost the belief that one should follow her dreams, and no matter how many times one fails, one will reach the stars (or something like that).
Gordon Marino is an occupational counselor, who used to ask his students what they love to do when they seek his guidance. But now he is rethinking that method ("A Life Beyond 'Do What You Love'") and unleashed television memories in my mind's eye.
Yes, there are people who rocketed to success while clinging to their calling. But there are as many individuals, if not more, who didn't, and elected to put aside the struggle by undertaking pragmatic, stable employment. Does that make them quitters? Does it mean their passionless work is meaningless?
The 1995 episode of The Simpsons "And Maggie Makes Three" flashes back to when there was only Bart and Lisa, and Homer achieves his dreams by leaving the power plant to work for less money in a bowling alley. Life is great. But when Marge becomes pregnant, the bowling alley salary is not enough, and Homer has to beg Mr. Burns for his job back. He's miserable.
To add a final, devilish touch to his evil overlordness, Mr. Burns hangs up a sign that says, "Don't forget: you're here forever." Homer gives meaning to his misery by plastering every photo of Maggie around his cubicle, even over the sign, so now it reads, "Do it for her."
But what if one isn't as selfless as Homer (that doesn't sound right), and one seeks only personal satisfaction. What if that someone can do so much for so many, but decides to reach for the petty-by-comparison dreams instead?
An episode of House, M.D. called "The Greater Good" deals with just this: the patient is a prominent cancer researcher who opts to become a chef. After her illness she is still a chef—she chose happiness over greatness.
Marino cites Kant, who operated on the belief (as philosophers did at that time) that one's abilities were gifts from Above, and so one should use their divinely ordained talents for the greater good. But today, God is no longer the first thought; "self-fulfillment" now reigns.
The faith that my likes and dislikes or our sense of meaning alone should decide what I do is part and parcel with the gospel of self-fulfillment. Philosophy has always been right to instruct that we can be as mistaken about our views on happiness as anything else. The same holds for the related notion of self-fulfillment.
"Self-fulfillment" kinda sounds a lot like the yetzer hara, doesn't it? It's about, in essence, what I want to do, and to heck with anything else. Yeah, that always turns out well.
Marino's father toiled at a job he hated because he wanted to put his children through college and, in turn, have a better life. Some would call that meaning, Marino says, but his father would have seen it as simply doing what had to be done.
Dr. King taught that every life is marked by dimensions of length, breadth and height. Length refers to self-love, breadth to the community and care of others, and height to the transcendent, to something larger than oneself. Most would agree with Dr. King’s prescription that self-fulfillment requires being able to relate yourself to something higher than the self. Traditionally, that something “higher” was code for God, but whatever the transcendent is, it demands obedience and the willingness to submerge and remold our desires . . . Our desires should not be the ultimate arbiters of vocation. Sometimes we should do what we hate, or what most needs doing, and do it as best we can.
"What has to be done" is different than "meaning"; "meaning" is a pleasant perspective, "what has to be done" is an obligatory directive, outside of our own selfish selves. If there is a way to combine what has to be done and what we like to do, that's nice. But in the end, we gotta do what we gotta do.