Life Is BIGGER Than Career

A nice career is for a nice life. Life is not a tool for a nice career.

An interviewer asks the Iranian Film Director Abbas Kiarostami how he would like his legacy as a filmmaker /artist to be. In other words, he asks Abbas what he would like to be remembered by.

Abbas then gives a reply in a classic Abbas way:

…my pleasure is in my own existence, not in those works that would remain of me. If that should be in opposition to the fact that something would remain of me, but I wouldn’t exist, then I prefer that I should remain and my work wouldn’t.

I like his reply, just as I like his cinema.

Career is supposed to be there to make our lives better, not the other way around.

I have seen many people around me and have also read about a lot who approach things in the latter way. Life for them is just a vessel for their career and nothing more. This is not just the case of those avaricious ones or of ordinary ones such as businessmen and jobbers, this is also the case with many artists, thinkers, scientists, philosophers and politicians.

Call it ambition, call it duty, call it professionalism — call it whatever you like, such people get obsessed with their work to such an extent that their life takes backstage and their every meal and breath culminates in the thought of climbing another step in their career ladder.

In arts, when we hear of artists who take such an approach, we tend to call them geniuses — and the more miserable the artist the greater we perceive them to be.

One has to be really really special to be able to rise above the petty dealings of life and devote oneself completely to the related field, we say. And we passionately discuss the stories of their misery and the glory of their art. Our such interpretation of genius provokes and motivates many a talent to burn themselves out — destroying their life in the process — for the sake of their art. Art has weird sources of inspiration anyway!

But my point is: such an attitude towards art or anything as such is an irony. Art is a means to an end and that end is always life — be it life’s knowledge or experiences. Similar is every other activity which we call profession and in an individual’s pursuit sense we call career. Science, philosophy , politics and everything else in between and beyond — are means to an end called life.

Hold on a second there Mr. Stupidyou might sayif everything is a means to make life better, doesn’t excess in means imply excessive betterment of life? Doesn’t excess art, science, philosophy and politics imply a greater life for the practitioner as well as for the receiver?

Yes you are correct, I reply, But that’s exactly where I see the problem. And I give my own example:

Trying to make a living as a writer I understand the importance of reading. And at times, when I am reading to make my career better, I persevere in spite of anxiety, frustration, agitation and problems in relationships with my loved ones. In those moments, I get obsessed with reading to such an extent that I forget the very reason I have pursued a life as a writer — which is to live a life I think is the best. I forget that career-reading is a means to writing-career and writing career is a means to a writing life which is nothing but a means to a perfect life (as per my perception.) If only I could remember to shut Kant books at a point where they begin troubling my peace of mind!

This is exactly the problem with our educational structure. Education fundamentally is supposed to be something that acts as a means to provide us guidance and an environment for an appropriate life within which grades and such are supposed to be means for a better education. But what did we end up doing? — We ended up obsessing over grades and education and therefore ended up living a miserable student life.

A career obsessed scientist might eventually make discoveries for a better world, but a miserable scientist can equally do things that will take the world the other way.

Oh, if only we all remembered that any type of work we do is done merely to make our lives better : there would be less anxious and miserable of us and there would be more scrutiny in what we do, which could only mean one thing: there would be less anxiety and misery all around — which is after all a good start to provide a good and complete life for everyone! (Which is why listen to that wonderful piece of music anyway.)