Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Undesiring Midwestern Ethos

A friend asked me a little bit ago, "What would your dream job be?" I kind of stumbled to think of a response. "Well," I tried, and mumbled something that came to mind at the moment.

I was talking to another friend, and I said, "Man, it would be so cool to be a graphic designer." In jest, they said, "Oh, so that's what you want to be today." What's with this inability to claim what I want?

I blame it on the ethos of the Midwest. Where I grew up, it's not so much about what you want to do, as it is what you should do. That sounds bad, and it's not quite right. Don't get me wrong - my parents have been extremely supportive and always encouraged me to dream big and do what makes me happy in life.

But the overall Midwestern ethos that's been ingrained in me, that I'll never really know the full influence of but that I get glimpses of like this, whispers life's not about you getting what you want, it's about helping others get what they want. Ideally, you quietly go about your work, you don't try to be flashy, and you shouldn't expect much of things. You're a servant. You exist to make others happy.

Is this an entirely bad mentality? Of course not. We should all try to make a positive difference in the life of others. We should be responsible citizens, giving back with our time, talents, and other resources. But sometimes the pendulum swings way too far, and gets stuck. This mentality is bad when it doesn't allow a person to claim a sense of self. It can result in one only wanting to make other people happy, wanting to fulfill others' wants. Or only wanting for myself what others want for me - which causes the "making others happy" drive to kick in, until there's nothing left. At the end of the day, what do I really want?

This all sounds ethereal, existential, and almost whiny. But I mean it actually to be quite practical. I'm afraid this post is getting a little long already, so I'm going to split it into two. Please read on to the next post to read about me working this out.

Thanks for stopping by. Midwesterns - do you agree with this? Does it at least resonate with you or am I an alien? Others - does this make sense at all? Is it not a Midwestern thing after all? Comments welcome!

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