“I’ll never give up.” “I won’t stop until I reach the top”. “Once I get that job my life will be set.”
These statements resemble our culture’s current obsession with the personal journey, that which sees someone rise from a bad situation, whether poverty, a broken home or heartbreak, amongst others, and achieve a level of success that most of us will only see portrayed on TV.
These journeys are valuable, and they do exist. And they are definitely worth pursing. But they do not tell the whole story. They don’t tell you what happens after someone achieves their goal. The 22 year old quarterback, excellent at such a young age — his life isn’t’ over after winning the Super Bowl. Life is not a struggle for one half, and then a happily-ever-after in the second.
But we know this of course. The majority of us do not follow this narrative exactly. We do have goals, and we do have struggles, and we try the best we can to do what makes ourselves and our loved ones happy.
This is something we are seeing more in the arts today. You could call it character transformations. Take a character, usually faced with endless problems, and see him through that until the end, or at least the end of the show. He will experience good times, he will experience bad times. This is seen on shows like Breaking Bad and Sons of Anarchy.
The main characters, Walter White and Jax Teller, respectively, do not venture on the most honorable of journeys. Certainly, none of us would choose these paths for ourselves. Sure, by cooking crystal meth to cover his cancer treatment costs and support his family, Walter means well. As does Jax, by killing everyone in sight only so he can escape the life of an outlaw and his children can have a better future, as ridiculous as that sounds. But obviously, bad things are still happening, and this is reflected in these shows. Things do not end up roses for everyone involved, and everything gets convoluted. But throughout all the carnage we get to watch these characters grow. We get to see how their thoughts, cares and priorities change.
Shows like this are exaggerated versions of the kinds of struggles we go through in real life, Better Call Saul and Orange is the New Black show the same kind of journeys. James McGill, in Better Call Saul, is a very likeable kind-hearted guy, but circumstances drive him to do things most of us would never even consider, much less faced with that decision. Though the show is only in the first season, we know that he ends up as a much different guy by the time his name is changed to Saul Goodman in the Breaking Bad storyline. In Orange is the New Black, Piper Chapman is sent to prison as a result for an after-thought crime she committed years ago, and her refusal to own up to her actions and admit her wrongdoing only leads her to performing darker actions and hurting more people around her.
But we are not all criminals in real life. The part worth focusing on is the character transformations, and though the current trend in TV is to show the transformations of broken people who do bad things with decent intentions, there is still something we can take from this message. Which is that life is a journey, a path where we make decisions along the way, decisions never only good or bad, but decisions that have complex consequences.
We can watch these shows just out of pure entertainment, or we can see them as hyperbole of the effects our decisions can have. It is important to remember that our decisions and attitudes affect everyone around us, and have ramifications going forward. But life doesn’t stop once you’ve reached the goal, nor does it if something terrible happens or things don’t go your way. You move on to the next thing, the next task.
Find areas in your life where you can improve, find new things to learn or new hobbies to take up, and ry it out. Often, the experience you gain as a result will be invaluable, and even if things do not turn out as we wanted them to, there is usually an important lesson we can learn.
These are real journeys that are important. These are honorable things worth pursing, and worth valuing. Television shows have taken the first step towards providing a more accurate sense of the character-transforming journey by showing us the ins-and-outs of daily life while experiencing huge life-shaping decisions. Now hopefully the next set or series will come along where the characters make decisions hat we can actually relate to.