In Meg Wolitzer's bestseller,THE INTERESTINGS, a life-changing moment (yes, literally) plays out when the primary character, Jules, is brutally counseled by her acting coach.
"Have you ever asked yourself whether the world actually needs to see you act? Everyone thinks their purpose is just to find their passion. But perhaps our purpose is also to find out what other people need."
The question has Jules questioning herself and her dream. "When do I stop," (trying to 'make it' as an actor), she wonders. "When I'm twenty-five? Thirty? Thirty-five? Forty? Or right this minute? Nobody tells you how long you should keep doing something before you give up forever."
Wow! There's so much there. But let's focus and ponder on two points:
1. When, if ever, should "we give up forever" on the dream, or on, as Wolitzer calls it, the "big profession"? Is "give up" even the right term? "Give up" leads to undesirable inferences. Failure inferences. Reality is harsh, but reality is truth. Must we have big, "interesting" success to live well?
In THE INTERESTINGS (named for a summer camp clique that thought of themselves as such), Jules recaps a Herman Wouk novel called "Marjorie Morningstar." Morningstar is an aspiring, can't-miss actress. Pretty, vivacious, she always gets the lead in her high school and summer stock plays. When she heads off to New York to make it big, she doesn't make it big. She ends up a housewife, her "enormous dreams" never met. "How, without knowing it you could just make yourself smaller over time," Jules wonders.
The story is so sad because so many of us, on some scale, have lived it. My cousin spent his entire too-short life striving to make it as an actor in New York. He died of brain cancer at 50, nowhere close to what he had hoped to become.
Should he have tried something else or, at some point, did he feel imprisoned by his dream? "You don't want to wait until you're so old that no one will hire you in any other field," Wolitzer writes.
I longed for a "big profession." Not as an actor. First, as an athlete. Then, as a teacher, a writer, and a speaker. It hasn't happened. If it never does, will my life be insignificant? If I say no, will I stop striving?
2. Are we here to "find our passion" or contribute to the world? Ideally, both. But how often does that happen?
Is what we want to do (or think we want to do) what we SHOULD do? Instead of asking ourselves, "What's best for me?" should we be asking "What does the world NEED from me?"
Are we better served by serving the world or ourselves? Or, maybe there can be no distinction between the two.
Here's a link to Liesl Schillinger's April, 2013 New York Times book review of THE INTERESTINGS: