Monday, January 23, 2017

Matters of consequence

published 18 September 2016
EARLIER this month, American bank Wells Fargo got into some trouble for running an advertisement for its Teen Financial Education Day.
The print ads show two teenagers: first, a smiling young woman, with the caption “A ballerina yesterday. An engineer today.”
The second photo shows a young man and the words “An actor yesterday. A botanist today.”
Below each photo were the words “Let’s get them ready for tomorrow.”
Prominent American artists expressed their disapproval of the ad over social media, objecting to the “implied career guidance,” says Michael Paulson of The New York Times. 
Among the big names were the singer Josh Groban, who tweeted “Brb gonna take out a Wells Fargo loan to go write Botany: The Musical.”
“Your ads are disrespectful to artists. Do you go to movies, ballet, theater, concerts?  Is your world not better because of arts?” said Rita Wilson, actress, singer and producer.
“Since when did Wells Fargo collectively become all of our conservative parents?” according to stage actor Wesley Taylor.
“Well this is gross. Wells Fargo just told me that I should look for other work. Here’s to tomorrow!” says Alex Brightman, another Broadway actor.
Teen Financial Education Day—scheduled right around this time (September 17, but they’re behind)—is still on but the ads have been taken down. Realizing what it had done, the financial giant has issued a statement that reads: 
“Wells Fargo is deeply committed to the arts, and we offer our sincere apology for the initial ads promoting our Sept. 17 Teen Financial Education Day. They were intended to celebrate all the aspirations of young people and fell short of that goal. We are making changes to the campaign’s creative that better reflect our company’s core value of embracing diversity and inclusion, and our support of the arts. Last year, Wells Fargo’s support of the arts, culture and education totaled $93 million.”
The company could have done without the last sentence, but that’s the statement. 
***
While the PR nightmare seems to have been resolved, the issue gets most of us thinking. It reflects a contentious point between children and parents, even here in the Philippines. Even more so because culture dictates we should defer to our parents’ wishes. 
In this day and age, we still hear of parents at best suggesting—at worst imposing—their preference on the career paths of their children. The traditional thinking is that pursuing the arts is not ideal if one wants stable finances or a comfortable life.
The arts do not pay well or regularly, and literature, music, visual arts, theater and film—these would do for great hobbies, something to be done on weekends or on one’s spare time. A responsible adult, on the other hand, would have a “real” job that pays sufficiently. And these real jobs are serious “matters of consequence,” perhaps, as these are described in The Little Prince. 
Several myths, however, have to be busted.
First, not all science jobs pay a lot.  We do not have to look any further than our government scientists. Remember the news that meteorologists from the weather bureau resigned en masse because of greater opportunities abroad? The same goes for engineers, architects, doctors, nurses—and yes, botanists. Generally, one has to snag a contract with an international outfit or become an overseas worker.
Second, one does not just “dabble” in the arts. The perception is that artists are flaky, unreliable, moody. What is not always known is their commitment to their work and the painstaking effort they make in learning from others and improving themselves. In truth, the discipline required to hone their art and to even have a slight chance of succeeding is immense. 
Third, success is not measured solely by how much money one makes. It is in doing what you love and loving what you do. Some millionaires can feel like they have to drag themselves to work every day, but a journalist who does not get paid on time will gladly cross rivers to get an interview or speak before a group of high school writers about the profession, feeling like the luckiest man or woman in the world.  
Finally, more important than imposing one career choice over another, the better message is to find one’s passion and pursue it. The best thing parents can do is to help their kids find that sweet spot: What they love and what they are good at, and what they would not mind doing for the rest of their lives. 
“Passion” covers a lot. It may be a passion to sing or act or paint or play an instrument or write. But it could also be a passion to solve problems, to invent things, to find a cure for diseases, to play the stock market, to be in public service. 
The worst possible career in the world is one you despise as soon as you open your eyes in the morning. On the contrary, we can only truly succeed in the things we love doing. 
adellechua@gmail.com

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