Oh Me Oh My

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Reach for the Stars, Keep Your Feet on the Ground

I remember writing a paper about Macbeth in grade 11. I went on and on about Macbeth’s fatal flaw being his ambition: it clouds his judgment, makes him reckless, and when his wife dies he is too embroiled in his madness to care; but is ambition really that bad? Sure killing Duncan was ill-advised but is Thane of Glamis ever enough, when the opportunity to be King is just a slit throat away? I guess what I am trying to ask is where is the line drawn between healthy desire for advancement and the foolish pursuit for something more?

To bring it to a more everyday level, I present the celebrity interview: They were small-town boys and girls. They played football. They acted in school plays. They hung out in the food court with their friends, but they had a dream and they were driven to realize it . They were going to be singers, athletes, models, actors, and regardless of the obstacles the faced they would get there sooner or later. Then they look earnestly at the camera and tell the little girls and boys out there that they should never stop dreaming—that they too could have it all.

This reminds me of my grade 9 English teacher Ms. Tousignant. She told us everyday that we could be anything we wanted to be, as long as we really truly wanted it. At first I found her zest refreshing. I truly believed if you wanted something so bad you couldn’t handle it, you could find a way to make it your own. But over the years Ms. Tousignant’s view seemed a bit more rose-coloured to me, and she went from being the optimistic eccentric to the daydreamer who wore large wrestlemania type belts over baggy sweaters.

Avril Lavigne played church functions and crappy western music until she was discovered. Jessica Simpson finally recorded an album after years of trying with a record label that folded right before it was supposed to come out. It was years before she broke through again. Ashton Kutcher was a good old country boy, whose charm and good looks took him around the world modelling and acting. How many times have you heard of a model being discovered while she was just shopping at her local mall in Nowheresville, USA? Or the factory worker who quit and lived on food stamps pursuing her dream of writing professionally, emerging from her years of sacrifice as an award winning novelist or editor-in-chief of some big magazine. These people and thousands like them had a dream, and they worked for it until it was theirs.

Sure many of them would still be nothing without the aid of their freakishly involved parents/managers, but how then do we explain the J.K. Rowlings and Helen Gurley Browns of the world: overcoming massive obstacles to become phenomenal successes. In a world where we are encouraged to settle and have a fallback and be happy with what we have, why do some continue to crawl to the top, while others set up shop in their proverbial ruts? Is it luck? Vision? Confidence? Courage?

Which voice do you listen to? The one that says go for the gold—the toothy celebrity telling you that you can do it—the English teacher who is dressed for a 1985 costume party? Or is it the one that says the job you have now is paying the bills; it may not be a fantasy land but it’s not awful. The one that tells you it’s a pipe dream, the competition is too fierce, you’re just not talented enough. Where is the line between realism and pessimism? No one wants to lug cement, clean toilets or input data for the rest of their lives, but if someone didn’t do it, things would fall apart. Is it fair to say that the road to success is paved by those who have settled in some regard?

Maybe settling is wise. Isn’t settling just a kind of negotiation with life? I’ll work this less-than-fabulous job because it pays okay and it’s close to home and my family. I’ll work at this company even though it’s not ideal because the time is flexible and has a great benefits package. Settling is such an ugly word. No one likes to think they settle for things but we do everyday: Most people do not have a dream job or dream partner. We don’t all live in, drive or buy all the things we’d like, but we settle because other things balance us out.

I think ambition is great. If you have a dream then by all means go after it. But if you don’t really have any lofty fantasies of selling out concert halls or directing movies or managing a multi-national company then that’s okay too. Do what makes you happy now. I think it is all about balancing sacrifice and risk with your current state of being. But what do I know?


At 2:30 p.m., Blogger Byron said...

Your entry sparks fear in my heart Jamie. I am one of those supposed few, who seemingly are 'following their dreams' with no back-up plan (because honestly, what else could I possbly do with a BFA in Theatre Acting). I presumeably am doing this because falling back is not an option. Now I ask you, healthy ambition and drive or folly and hamartia. It is the working actors' lot in life to always be asking 'What the hell am I doing? Is this the best way I can contribute to the world? How am I gonna pay rent?' For the single moment of applause and appreciation, there are countless other moments of doubt, depression, fear and regret. Is it worth it? I don't what I'm trying to say but I think is that you struck a chord with my insecurities. On a brighter note, the thought of Ms. T's belts and saggy sweaters brought some much needed joy to my day.

At 3:06 p.m., Blogger Jamie said...

After I wrote this blog, I kinda regretted it, and Byron's response is exactly why. It ended up this horrid mish mash of many ideas when all I really wanted to ask was, What seperates the driven from the stationary? Why do some settle and some never stop reaching for their goals? And in the end is settling all that bad? I ended it with the joke about schadenfreude which I wish I hadn't. I would never actually take pleasure in watching someone who really wanted something and worked hard for it, never quite make it. Byron is a living inspiration: great writer, actor, philanthropist. He sets life goals and goes for them and if anything, it is one of the things I admire most about him. So I am going to delete that last part, because it was a stupid attempt to be funny that crashed and burned in my opinion

Dream Followers, Rut Accepters, Star-Gazers, Corporate Drones, Bohemian Street Kids -- in the end it is your choice. That's what it's all about anyway right, choice?


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