A Curious Girl

The musings of a girl who is curious in both senses of the word. Life, God, and York. Oh, did I say York? I meant Bradford!

Thursday, January 12, 2006

On the meaning of success


Riverside path
Originally uploaded by sweet-indigo.
Hi guys,

Sorry it's been a while since I last posted. Merry Christmas :) And a Happy New Year. I'm not doing New Year's Resolutions this year. I've decided to rebel since they've never done me any good anyway :)

So, term has started, and I am paying dearly for neglecting my studies last term. Oh boy. Trouble is, I've never been particularly disciplined. I read yesterday that the reason Tom Lehrer majored in Mathematics at Harvard was because if you did all the homework you didn't need to revise. That cheered me up a bit, since I was thinking that I'd love to be a writer as awesome as Tom Lehrer and it's nice to know he didn't like revision either (I wonder what he's doing these days? Apparently at 71 he was still teaching... Appropriate really, I remember noticing that Lehrer is German for "teacher". Wonder if there's a German word for "brilliant musical satirist"?).

I try and look on the bright side. If I fail my degree, there's a good chance I won't spend the rest of my life doing science, and can go back to merely dallying with it by reading popular science books and writing song parodies about it. What I really don't want is to disappoint my parents, and my project supervisor. I adore my project supervisor, he's one of the most interesting and passionate scientists - and teachers - I know. I guess I don't actually mind, since I don't have any dependent children or even a dependent boyfriend, being in Crappy Jobsville for a while (although I'm debating whether in all honesty I can morally work for McDonald's. Sigh). I guess my problem is that the things I am particularly good at don't really make for lucrative careers unless you're very good, or very lucky. (Although Lizzie tells me her mother, a Biochemistry graduate, had her first job in a chocolate factory... tasting chocolate. I said, "wow, perhaps I'll work a bit harder" :) )

I'm still vaguely toying with the idea of being a nurse. I ought to get some hospital voluntary work first and speak to the nursing students I know. It's just I am caught by the idealistic idea that if a career doesn't make the world a better place then it's not worth having :) Apparently hard work makes you happy, which makes me wonder if the problem with university is not the work but the free time :) Plenty of time for ennui and angst... My ideal job would be a) worthwhile, b) interesting, c) with colleagues I like and can work with and d) paid, because I am not a millionaire :) I guess I just feel fed up with the degree because I just don't know where it's going. It'd be lovely to find a cure for cancer or a gene-therapy for cystic fibrosis or something but it's rather unlikely I'll be involved with that. I got a bit depressed at work last year because although I did have good friends in Cambridge, at work, church, and of course seeing my friend David and going to our gospel choir, so often I felt like we students were given the "boring" jobs that our more qualified colleagues felt too clever to do. I guess I'd like to feel valued, too, because I don't really see the point of doing a job that a trained monkey could learn, anymore than I see the point of doing a job that doesn't seem worthwhile.

And I've been wondering if I didn't have something of a twisted idea of success. I remembered something my old form tutor said about success - he said he met a former student who was a brilliant scientist, and asked him what he was currently doing. Former student says, "I do gardening jobs half the year and save money. The other half I spend visiting tropical rainforests." Mr. B, in awe, said, "Now that is a very successful man!" (I think he was jealous because he'd been teaching for over 30 years :D ) Success isn't about having the right initials after your name. I'm reminded of a one-liner... "He got all As and flunked life" :) Isn't "success" something of an idol? Do we really think God put us on this earth to earn money, drive nice cars, become famous, etc?

...I was thinking about the worst things that could happen, because I'm an optimist like that, and was wondering what divorce must be like. I imagine it's pretty horrible. Then I thought about various Hollywood stars, most of whom have divorced at least once. And I figured success isn't that clear-cut after all. Or perhaps I remember my Mum, who's also one of my heroes 'cause she had to raise me mostly by herself until I was 12 and did such a good job, of course :) There are so many rubbish clich├ęs about single mothers that I can assure you aren't true in the slightest.

My faith is still in an odd place right now. Still reading a lot and trying to pray and looking through the Bible. But I love that Jesus pretty much blew apart the idea of success. I guess that's one of the things I've always loved, although not done a particularly good job of following. He says you don't need to run around after food and clothing. He says the key is actually giving and not receiving. He even (crazy man! ;) ) taught that the poor, the meek, the peacemakers, the frankly inadequate and the persecuted were blessed and appears to have liked children best of all! (another thing I like about him... I love kids) He taught that being recognised as great by other people isn't really so wonderful... and that "stuff" isn't worth much. His entire life is a brilliant topsy-turvy example of success. Can you imagine Rick Warren's ministry done in the style of Jesus Christ? He recites The Purpose-Driven Life to a few hundred people, goes around teaching in obscure villages, getting threatened with death wherever he goes, then gets horribly killed by some angry detractors? No, I can't see it either, but I suspect not even Rick Warren, an incredibly powerful man, could rise from the dead, so I'm sure it's a good thing he isn't the Messiah, even if he could have got the Sermon on the Mount to a global audience :) But yeah - Jesus sells no books, gets moderate fame in his lifetime, has no children, and doesn't even participate in fundraising for his ministry. Dies at 33 years old. Even when he later defies death by coming back, something not generally done, he doesn't use it as a publicity opportunity, just to make the meaning of his death and resurrection clear to his followers. And don't I long that instead of petty successes that only last for now, we really can do things that advance the Kingdom of Heaven? Wouldn't it be great if at the end, we can look back to something in our lives and say, "It was hard, it was costly, but it was worthwhile because I did it for God... and because it changed things."

I dunno. I'd really like to do things that mean something to God, that aren't just pointless prizes for now but genuinely worthwhile. I'm really not sure where talents/vocations etc. fit into that. I'd like to think that they were created for just that purpose, and with God who created beauty and such an intricate and wonderful universe, that serving him isn't as dull and as rigid as some people would have us believe. Not in a "I'm a stripper for God!" sense, but in a sense that all our God-given talents are useful and good within his kingdom.

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