What Are You in it For?
Economic Justification for Living
Published: July 12, 2010
by Laura Joy Perales
“It’s not easy to be an English major these days, or any student of the humanities. It requires a certain kind of determination, and a refusal…to make decisions, or at least to make the kind of ‘practical decisions’ that much of society demands of us,” Danner extrapolates. As an English major, I can relate. Perhaps I was too eager to answer the question of how I would justify my existence, abandoning all else save what would make me a stable living in a noble profession which is valuable. Is there a correct answer to the existential, economic question: “who are you and what is your economic justification for being?” No, there are an infinite number of possibilities, and we need a plethora of answers for the world to keep spinning. The idea Danner addresses here is that we, as individuals, need to pursue a future that serves a purpose in society, gives meaning to existence… and earns a living at the same time, which seems to be the afterthought.
We’re divided into two categories, as Danner asserts. In the first category are those of us “willing to think and believe” (Cat. 1). In the second category are those of us who are determined to read, think, and find out” (Cat. 2). Danner encourages us, like his students in the course for which this article was written, to maintain the questioning spirit of the latter group. While it is hard for us to discard the logical systematic approach to success that we’ve internalized, when we look at what we’re going to do with our degree, we need to carefully consider the way that we want to contribute to society. I can almost hear Michael W. Smith’s lyrics: “I’m looking for a reason, roaming through the night to find my place in this world.” Danner reminds us that truth and integrity do matter, not just talent or brilliance.
Since it’s summer and school is not in session, I can’t conduct this poll the way I’d like to do it, but I’ve improvised. First, I polled twelve kids from my high school on Facebook. This was a good start, but I wanted more holistic results. I gave my mother a call. For fifteen years, she did various versions of this career discovery method until there were better resources available to her. The kids end up doing an entire project, but it starts from three questions: 1) What do you want to be when you grow up? 2) What inspired you? And 3) Why do you want to be this? Mom went though her archives and found 30 student essays from 3 years ago, written in the 5th grade in Upstate New York, and sent me essays to interpret the results. I’ve divided these kids into groups based on their reasoning for wanting the job that they want, rather than by job field, because the “why” is what determines the integrity of these goals.
Cat. 1 - These are the kids who are in it for fame and fortune. Their primary reasoning for selecting a specific career is to make a lot of money and get recognition for it. Not surprising, we find a lot of pro ball players and musicians. Danner would tell these kids to start asking the real questions. Can you give the world something it is lacking? What is your social responsibility?
· Derek wants to be in the NFL so he can have a life of fame and fortune.
· Natalie wants to be a singer for fame and fun.
Chris, inspired by Tiger Woods, wants to be a
professional golfer because of the fame and
sense of accomplishment.
Dylan, who loves to draw, wants to be an
architect because of the sense of accomplishment
· Luke wants to be a professional basketball player because of the fame and fortune.
· Jessica wants to be an actress for enjoyment and fame.
· Nina wants to be an artist for fortune and fame.
· Alex wants to be a drummer in a rock band for fame and fortune.
Cats. 1 and 2 - These are the kids who are in it to help the world. Many of them are based on true inspirations. There are a variety of jobs, but a common strand is that they are all practical. Doctors, teachers, lawyers… Like my choice to teach, it is a path based on nobility and usefulness to society. These students have realistic aspirations, primarily because they are founded in the desire to help make the world a better place.
Matthew, inspired by Einstein, wants to be a
physicist to feel a sense of accomplishment and
help the world.
Tamara, inspired by my mom, wants to be a
teacher so she can help children and gain pride in
· Bryan wants to be a doctor to fulfill his dream and help people.
Michelle wants to become a marine biologist
because she loves animals and will fulfill her
dreams by helping them.
· Mike, inspired by Animal Planet, wants to become a veterinarian so he can help animals.
· Kevin, inspired by Court TV, wants to be a lawyer so he can protect people.
Greg wants to be a lawyer so he can save lives
by defending them because he, at 10, is good at
· Carey wants to be a doctor to help other and feel accomplished.
Cat. 1 and 2 - These are the kids who are in it for enjoyment and accomplishment. This is not a bad thing. To be able to feel a sense of pride or accomplishment and enjoy what you are doing while making a living would be the ultimate career! They recognize their abilities and interests, and imagine the possibilities for their lives. They are thinking outside the box, justifying a valuable existence by the part they want to play in the economy. Some of these are more possible than others, if we place our logical limitations on them, but these are the dreams I am glad are still surviving. You’ll note some of the pro athletes and star actresses resurface here, but this time, they aren’t going for where the money is; they are thinking about what they are good and how that might make them a living in the future.
· Randy, inspired by his brother, wants to be a pro skateboarder because it’s fun.
· Rebecca wants to be news reporter, inspired by TV News, because it looks fun and challenging.
Michael, inspired by Bode Miller, wants to be a
professional Skier because of the pride in
accomplishment and fun.
Paige, inspired by her own love and ability,
wants to be a gymnast for the sense of
Jennifer wants to be a Jockey because she won an
award and already feels a sense of
Noah wants to be a Broadway Star, encouraged by
his music teacher, because of the enjoyment
and pride in accomplishment.
· Jerry wants to be an air force pilot because of the excitement and pride in accomplishment.
· Theresa, because she’s done so well in musicals, wants to be a famous actress for the pride and
Cat. 2. - The last grouping I’m calling “The Life-Changers”. These kids have reasons that go beyond their peers. They focus right down at the level of “what can I do, as an individual, to contribute to society?” At ten, they are seeing the bigger picture.
Cameron wants to continue his family’s legacy by
becoming a lawyer. His father and
grandfathers were lawyers, and he admires them more than anyone else. He can’t imagine a
better life than to follow in his father’s footsteps.
· Shelby wants to be a graphic designer for the enjoyment of discovering and creating new
things, and the sense of accomplishment that comes with it. She believes she has something
unique to create for the world that only she can give.
· Brianna wants to be a scientific photographer because she not only wants a sense of personal
accomplishments, but she wants to make contributions to the science field. She wants to
· Spenser wants to be a famous scientist because he wants to revolutionize technology and win
the Nobel Prize.
There were two misfits, Nick and Tyler. Nick wants to be a surgeon because it is a good job with a secure future. He was the only student of the thirty to make this “safe claim” (Cat. 1). Tyler wants to be an artist so he can buy his mother a new house and car. His motivation is entirely different from those of his peers. He’s not looking for his personal success or the success of society but for a way to improve his mother’s life circumstances. I don’t think we can underestimate how forceful this reasoning will be in Tyler’s future career (Cat. 2).
From my Facebook poll, I’m going to pull a few insightful quotes that I think really support this week’s readings.
Amanda, future song/poetry writer (f, 16) – “It’s not for the money, it’s for me. If I did absolutely nothing but just did what I loved forever, I would be happy. Sadly, we live in a world where you need money to have a happy, more productive life. But I’m gonna try my best not to conform to that silly concept somehow.”
Matthew, writer/musician (m, 17) - “You hear far too often of people having to do things they dislike as I job, so I’d love to do something I love.”
Lindsay, business owner (f, 18) – “I want to run my own company so there are no limits. I don’t know what company. I just know I want to be my own boss.”
Danner, M. (2005, May). What are you going to do with that? Speech presented at the Department of
English of the University of California, Berkeley, CA.
Author: Laura Joy Perales
Published: July 12, 2010 in Perception
Volume 1: Issue 3