Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Performing arts ambition leads to dissatisfaction

Recently I mentioned that an episode of The Graham Norton Show might unintentionally mislead viewers into overrating their chances of achieving highly ambitious goals in life, because the show interviews the tiny elite of celebrities who succeed in acting or music, and not the great mass of people who fail. Quite a pessimistic perspective, perhaps, yet today I read something related on a Byran Caplan blog at Econlog. Caplan is discussing Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow, which shows that income inequality is partly explained by the diversity of attitudes towards wealth among young people. Those who say, at 17 or 18, that becoming rich is important to them, do tend to eventually earn more than those who say it is not important to them.
The same principle applies to other goals--one recipe for a dissatisfied adulthood is setting goals that are especially difficult to attain. Measured by life satisfaction 20 years later, the least promising goal that a young person could have was "becoming accomplished in a performing art."
Apart from the dissatisfaction of failing to achieve success in a career where most people will fail to achieve success, I guess there is an opportunity cost to this ambition also. In September the Freakonomics team had an interesting podcast on the merits of quitting. They talked to sociologist Sudhir Venkatesh who looked at the socioeconomic backgrounds and outcomes of young men in a 'baseball draft class', which I gather means that they showed promise to be professional baseball players and sought that career:
The average player probably looks like an upper-middle-class kid who comes out of college or comes out of high school. And when you follow an upper-middle-class kid for about seven to ten years, they’re probably going to make higher than the median average income. They’re probably going to live in a neighborhood that’s relatively safe. They’re going to have a career. Now, when you take the counterpart among the pool that was drafted, that median kid, that kid looks likes he’s making about $20,000 to $24,000 a year, which is not a lot of money. He’s working probably five to seven months playing baseball, and then struggling to find part-time work in the off-season. Might be coaching, might be doing some training, might be working on a construction site. Might be working in fast food.
So those who followed their dream and didn't quite make it seem to have paid an economic penalty, compared with those who had no hope of making it big in baseball to start with.

I got thinking that it might be cool to have an inspirational teen movie where the hero fails miserably, gives up, and knuckles down to some less exciting career, at which he or she is successful.

Then I remembered something else: this sort of thing actually has been covered by The Graham Norton Show. In one recent episode actor Antonio Banderas was demonstrating some sword-fighting skills to Norton when his co-star Salma Hayek remarked that Banderas could have been a professional footballer. Banderas said that this had been a chance, but that he had broken a leg as a teenager, and drifted into acting instead. Hayek then admitted that she had been trained as a gymnast as a youngster, and was even drafted into the Mexican national team before she abandoned it.

Not quite what I'd been thinking of, but good to see at least that early abandoned dreams did not scuttle lives for good!

1 comment:

  1. (I realise late that I should have said "unsuccessful" performing arts ambitions lead to dissatisfaction. For those who succeed, great!)

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