Career

The way the modern world expects us to live is kind of absurd. Around our early twenties, we are expected to choose the thing we are going to do for the rest of our lives, then we are expected to do the same job year after year until we drop dead, and be happy with it. The thing is, I’ve never really found this way of living appealing, because there are many things that interests me and I want to do all of them at the same time, but because of the way society expects humans to function it’s just not possible. It’s not possible to be a farmer in the morning, a chemist at noon, a computer programmer in the afternoon, a philosopher in the evening and a novelist at night. (Technically it is possible, but I don’t think there is an employer who will pay to do all those different things.)

I think this way of living developed due to two different ideas that somehow collided together through the course of history. First is the idea of the “calling.” Back when Christianity was still influential, it was believed that some people are “called” by God to serve him. This service took many forms, sometimes it was going into the desert and pray, but other times it was to do some important work such as caring for the poor, making beautiful artworks to glorify God or even doing practical work such as making furniture. However, it wasn’t expected that everyone has a calling, it was believed that only a few people are selected by God and the rest will do mundane things such as farming or cleaning dishes.

The second idea comes from the Industrial Revolution, and it was the discovery that division of labor and specialization increases economic output. The key notion here is “specialization.” If you make a person do the same thing over and over, that person will perform that task much more efficiently due to experience. This is a good thing for the productivity of the economy, but not necessary good for the individual. In such a system, an individual might get stuck in a job he or she may not like, but finds it difficult to change career because that person has only one or two skills they are very good at.

But if this idea of “specialization” causes so many problems, why do we all accept it? I think this idea of “specialization” merged with the older romantic version of the “calling.”┬áMany of us do not believe in God, nonetheless we believe that what we should choose to do with our lives should come from something deep inside our soul, not something demanded by society. The idea of choosing a “career” is a very romantic one. When we choose a career, we are expected to first find “who we really are” and then find an occupation that fits the truth of our being.

The thing is that the search for a career first starts out as romantic, but it doesn’t (always) stay romantic. For some people, they choose a career became at first they find that career exciting, but as time goes on they discover the less enjoyable parts of the career, and eventually become jaded. It’s the equivalent of falling deeply in love with someone and getting eloped, but later discovering that the person you married is kind of a jerk and now you’re stuck with living with him or her for the rest of your life. I don’t think this always happens, but people do get stuck in a career they initially thought was good.

There’s another problem, when I look into myself I find that I am a lot of many different things. I am a scientist, a poet, a programmer and even gardener. Each of these identities is completely authentic, and choosing one means denying another. I don’t think this is a personal idiosyncrasy, I think many people would prefer to do more than just one thing throughout their lives.

I also have doubt as to whether the idea of “career” makes sense in the 21st century. During the Industrial Revolution “specialization” was one of the things that increased economic productivity, but that’s less of a case nowadays. The professions have become so specialized that people are often unaware of anything outside their narrow realm. Specialization have built walls between professions that shouldn’t be there. For example, the “science” of bioinformatics was developed because computer scientists and biologists are so unaware of what each other are doing. Bioinformatics shouldn’t exist if the two communities took more notice of one another.

With the Internet, it makes less sense to over-specialize. Knowledge is no longer scarce, it’s easier to find high-quality information on any subject, which reduces the need for formal education. But in order to actually make the 21st century possible, we need to rethink this particular notion, as well as a lot of other notions. We also need different institutions, both private and public, but this is outside the scope of this essay (and is probably far more controversial to discuss).

 

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Free as a Bird

The birds are never lonely
Their companion is the air
Lifting them with its gentle hand
Under friendly gaze of the sun and stars
Guided by their unwavering light

What a world they live in!
Every branch is a home
Every worm is a meal
Every puddle a frolicking pool

What a feeling to be truly free!
Escaping to the air in a fearless leap
Riding across the big blue sky
Looking on earth like a small god

What immense joys we humans miss
Glued to the ground by gravity
Feeling the freedom of wandering through the sky
Only when we dive into our imaginations

The Walls in our Minds

Break! the barriers we built in our minds
Climb! the frigid mountains in our hearts
Can you see the spring beyond the peaks?
The vast fields where wild dreams bloom

Why can’t I see what you see?
Why do you see a wall where I see nothing?
Why do you see a desert where I see paradise?
Can reality be seen clearly only by a blind fool?

Do not build a bridge; I’ve already forded the river
I am in paradise while you stumble over molehills
Enter paradise only when paradise is already in you

The Lawrence Welk Show

Throughout the years I have seen many mediocre television shows, and for the most part I am not too bothered by them. When I was a child I watched television mostly to quell the constant boredom I felt, and even when there were no shows worth watching I would sit through infomercials. However, there was one show that I couldn’t stand, and that was The Lawrence Welk Show.

For those people who are not yet retired, The Lawrence Welk Show was a musical variety show that originally ran from 1951 to 1982, with continued reruns on PBS well into the 21st century. The reason I knew the existence of the show at all is because I am a regular viewer of PBS, and in my opinion it was one of the worst shows ever on that network (and I’m including Barney and Friends).

The terrible thing about the show is that all the musicians and performers on the show are very talented, but they were all incredibly boring. All of the music on the show are performed in a very similar style, so by the time you hear more than two songs you become completely bored. Even when the show tries to play more contemporary music, the style they play it would transform it from enjoyable to mediocre.

Another thing I couldn’t stand is the show’s unrelenting cheerfulness. Everyone on the show puts on an unnatural smile, as though they have been lobotomized, all of the songs are either incredibly sugary or sentimental, and everyone dressed like they were stuck in the past. None of the performers seem to have any kind of personality, except in that 50s conformist kind of way. I would go as far as to say they were more than automatons than real human beings, but even robots would create music with more personality than the “musical family” of Lawrence Welk. I would much prefer to listen to Kraftwerk, who literally built robots to perform their music.

The Lawrence Welk Show is a fascinating example of art that is excellent on a technically level but is devoid of creativity or imagination. Many musicians do not have level of talent of the people on that show, but many of them are better musicians because they express their imagination or personality in their music. On the other end of the spectrum are garage bands who may not be talented but nonetheless can be creative.

I think this lesson extends to all forms of art. You can achieve a high level of technical mastery and yet be missing crucial elements. I have been calling these elements personality, imagination, and creativity, but to be honest I think what makes art good is still quite mysterious.

All forms of art depend on science, but cannot be reduced to science. Painting, for example, requires (some) understanding of geometry, color and even some small amount of psychology. However, even understanding all the science will not allow you to produce a masterpiece, only by combining science with imagination will produce something interesting.

The Forgotten

The forgotten of the world come out at night
Looking for a home in the desolate darkness
They stroll like ghosts through empty streets
Only shadows appear where there used to be men

Shrinking into the dark with a friendly reply
Silhouetted against the glow of melancholy homes
Keeping company with the mistress of the night

Nightmares

When we enter into the dark
We also enter into ourselves
The mysterious void in caverns
Is also the frightening abyss in our minds

Demons that stalk us in the day
Pursue us into our dreams
What we cannot defeat in our wake
We continue to fight in nightmares

On the Wind

Surfing on a wave of wind cool and mild
What bliss was it to be born free and wild
Riding on a current with happy birds
Listening to their songs and cheerful words

Traveling in a world untrammeled and free
Beside a grain of pollen on a bee
In a world where humans look like ants
A single seed spans the earth’s expanse