June 2, 2022
I’ve been thinking lately about goals that make us feel better versus goals that make us be better.
I started thinking about this when I saw the film Eurovision recently and cried at the end. I don’t think it was meant to be a sad film, given that it starred Will Ferrell. It wasn’t much of a funny film either, despite that it starred Will Ferrell. In fact, much of it seemed, well, kind of boring. Predictable. Maybe because Will Ferrell’s acting is predictable. Maybe because the story seemed predictable. I felt apathetic and detached through most of it.
So, you can imagine my surprise when I found myself sobbing during the climactic scene.
I owe my tears to Rachel McAdams. I never considered myself a fan before, but I totally am now. The premise of the movie was silly. Ferrell was silly. So much of the plot and many of the characters were silly. But McAdams brought a depth to the story that sliced through the nonsense and allowed the movie to mean something.
And what it means is simple: to realize your dreams, care a lot less about where you came from or who you feel you are and a lot more about making choices that get you where you want to be.
In the film, Ferrell and McAdams play an Icelandic singing duo with dreams of making it to the Eurovision song contest. I won’t spoil the ending, but along the way, Ferrell is caught up in his identity as a loser. When faced with a setback, he falls apart because his loser identity rears its head. He thinks that by making it to Eurovision, his loser identity will be shed. There’s a lot at stake for him. His goal becomes too important and too precious, and therefore too far out of reach. Because making it to the contest is tied to his identity, he makes dramatic and poor choices that divert him from his goal.
McAdams, on the other hand, seems apathetic to what it all means. She doesn’t seem attached to any identity. She isn’t motivated to shed a negative label. And Eurovision isn’t her ticket to self-acceptance. She’s just there to sing, support Ferrell, and perform at the contest. Setbacks hurt her, but she doesn’t imbue them with meaning. She hobbles on, pushes forward, and makes the choices that need to be made. And her choices are simple. They’re the choices anyone would objectively need to make to get to Eurovision.
It's a beautiful-sad thing to see, actually… McAdams pushing through the painful odds with solid choices while Ferrell, the frustrated dreamer, aches at the thought of himself. The culmination of that, story-wise, can bring one to tears.
A lot of us have dreams. I hope all of us do. Some dreams are big, others small, none un-important.
Some of us choose our dreams because we think they’ll free us from the negative labels we’ve grown attached to. We think that if we can make it to our own metaphorical version of Eurovision, we’ll feel good about who we are. So, we work hard – but sometimes we work so hard that we get in our own way, or we work at things that don’t really matter, that don’t get us to where we hope to go. And because reaching our goals is tied to our identities, we feel deflated and discouraged with every setback – which makes us more likely to give up.
It's not always obvious to us that we’re doing this. We’re innocent in it. We just want to feel good about ourselves – about our worth and social position – and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that.
But chasing a feeling is hard. Emotions are elusive, and they’re at the mercy of every little thing. So many variables impact how we feel, from how well we sleep to what we eat, who we talk to, what we watch on television, or the subjective opinion of a Eurovision judge. It begs the question: is feeling good really a good goal? And are goals tied to feeling good worth striving for?
Maybe a better way to go is to think about your endgame in terms of conditions or experiences that sustain basic human contentment – like security, companionship, support, resources for survival, and so on. What would give you these things? How would you obtain them? And what do they even have to do with Eurovision anyway?
This isn’t to say that it wouldn’t be cool to be a Eurovision contestant – or whatever your version of that is. No one can really tell you what to dream. Just know this: if you make it to your metaphorical Eurovision, then cool. But if you don’t, you’re still the same person you were when you got on that stage.
And chances are, that person is good enough.
That is all.