Over the past few months I’ve noticed a trend in TV and movies. A major plot line goes something like this: A woman or man has found Mr. or Ms. Right. Around that same time, a great career opportunity becomes available. Our hero or heroine must decide whether to choose the dream or the relationship.
Now, ignoring how unrealistic it may be that these two pieces of great fortune would come at the exact same moment, it is a question media seems interested in asking. In fact, I recently saw the movie “La La Land,” in which this choice played a central role.
Mia is an aspiring actress working at a coffee shop. Sebastian is a jazz pianist who dreams of restoring a famous jazz club in L.A. The two meet and discover a special kinship, romance (of course) and the ability to push one another toward their dreams. They discover a good thing in their relationship with one another, but it seems inevitable that their dreams will get in the way.
I loved the movie with its whimsical, old-fashioned musical feel that paid homage to films such as “Singing in the Rain.” (I’m a total sucker for musicals.) But while I was intrigued with the tension of whether the characters would choose their relationship or their dreams or some combination, I wasn’t fully satisfied with the film’s conclusion.
Relationship vs. Calling
In her article about the film’s tension between dreams and relationship, Gina Dalfanzo writes:
Family is one of God’s good gifts to us, but so is calling, and as such, the latter also deserves a high priority in our lives. Christians believe that when God creates us, He gives us talents, abilities, and drives to accomplish His purposes in the world. There are even some who argue that we are most like God when we create.
I don’t disagree in principle, but unfortunately, I believe career, calling and creativity have been elevated too high in our current culture. Watch almost any movie or TV show where characters must decide to follow their dream or follow another person, and the answer is obvious: follow your dream. I believe such thinking can stand in the way of alternate (yet also good) choices, such as committing to a relationship, getting married or starting a family. Such choices even have the potential to bring greater fulfillment than “making it” in a given career field.
We seem to have a fascination with what is more valuable: self-actualization or love. A friend recently posted the following Lady Gaga quote on social media: “Some women choose to follow men, and some women choose to follow their dreams. If you’re wondering which way to go, remember that your career will never wake up and tell you that it doesn’t love you anymore.”
I found the quote sad. It sets up a contest between career and relationship in which relationship is the loser. While marriage may not be for everyone, we were created for relationship and community. As powerful as calling and creativity are, they will never fill the spot meant for human love and relationship. Both calling and community are needed. And if both are needed, choosing a relationship over a calling is a valid option.
One Woman’s Story
Upon college graduation, my friend Emily had her eyes set on her dream job of being a magazine editor. But her senior year, she met and became engaged to Kit, a guy who was completely devoted to her and loved the Lord. When a position opened up at the publishing house Emily had her eye on, she decided to fly to another state to take an editing test and interview.
And while Kit was supportive of Emily’s career aspirations, he felt strongly about not making this particular move should Emily get the job. So before heading to the interview, Emily gave him back the ring and called off their engagement. She says:
While I was there, it quickly became apparent to me that my dream career wasn’t actually my calling. As counter-cultural as it may sound, my true calling was to be a wife and a mom. Going back home to my then ex-fiancé wasn’t as simple as putting back on the ring and moving forward. We began a more intensive premarital counseling process that involved more work on growing our relationships with the Lord than our relationships with each other. In the process, we grew closer and our love for and commitment to each other deepened.
Eleven years later — with two daughters — Emily has no regrets about her redirected path: “My calling to relationship has been both immensely more beautiful and immensely more challenging than any career (even my dream one) could ever be for me. Fulfilling the call the Lord has given me provides so much more reward and peace than not doing so ever could have.”
While the world might see Emily’s story as one of giving up her dreams for marriage, for her, it was the route God used to help her discover her true calling. I don’t think we need to see either relationship or calling as the “right answer.” Sometimes they can be one and the same.