Rosebud

February 10, 2012
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After giving up everything to feed his ambition, Macbeth says, “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player/ That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,/ And then is heard no more. “ (5.5.27-29). He decides that life is largely meaningless when people let themselves be consumed by things like career and status. I have to wonder, is there a point to strutting and fretting one’s hour upon the stage? Is that even a life? Many people live that way. They play the part laid out for them and never miss a step. It’s all a part of The Plan.
Over the summer, I go to a camp at Northwestern called Center for Talent Development. It’s a place for nerds and overachievers to take classes on their favorite subjects, like Calculus or Non-fiction Writing. Most of the kids that go there are all on The Plan. They will work their way to the top of their class, attend a well-ranked college, get a good-paying job, and buy a big house in the suburbs. My roommate from this last summer was a prime example of a teenager on The Plan. Ayo was first in her class, had two doctors for parents, and had played the piano since she was three. She didn’t mind the track she was set on, but wished she had been allowed to choose the path. Ayo thought little of the fact that she had to attend an Ivy League school, nor did she care that she had to choose from The Three Jobs: Doctor, Lawyer, Engineer. She had always wanted to be a lawyer, and she probably would have gone to Princeton anyway. Most of the other students in my Law & Politics class were in similar situations with a few minor exceptions.

For the most part, I’m on The Plan too. My grades have always been fairly good, I plan on going to Northwestern, and I think the idea of being rich and successful is certainly appealing. My greatest objection to The Plan is that it doesn’t guarantee happiness. My uncle John was an exceptional student, went to a very good school, and became a very wealthy and successful lawyer. Despite having a wife and three kids, he was completely devoted to his career. He worked from very early in the morning to extremely late at night. When he got home, all he wanted to do was to sleep. His children were miserable growing up without a father and his wife was lonely without a husband. When he was diagnosed with brain cancer, he kept working. Rather than spend his last years with his family at home, he maintained his usual work pace at the office. My uncle John died at 55. He left behind a fractured, but well-off family. My question is, was it worth it? He must have been passionate about his job to have worked that long and hard. He definitely provided for his family and left them financially secure. On the other hand, his addiction to career hurt his family and most likely made him unhappy too.

When I think about my uncle John and The Plan, the movie Citizen Kane comes to mind. The film tells the story of a newspaper tycoon named Charles Kane. Following Kane’s death, reporters look back at his life to piece together what kind of man he was and to decode the meaning of his last words. Through interviews with his acquaintances and the wives from his failed marriages, the audience learns that Kane was groomed to be a successful business man by a wealthy adoptive father. He ultimately became an unhappy person who died alone. His last word, “Rosebud”, referred to a sled with “Rosebud” written on it. He had played with it when he was still a little kid from a very poor family. Despite having spent many years with all the money in the world, his favorite memory is being dirt poor and enjoying the simple fun of a little wooden sled. Again, I have to wonder, was it worth it? For Charles Kane, it was not. He lived his life pursuing wealth and status only to die longing for a time without them.

So, is there a point to strutting and fretting one’s hour upon the stage? I still don’t know. I think there’s value in The Plan, especially if someone is genuinely passionate about it. But if someone follows The Plan simply because it’s laid out for them, it’s the wrong decision. One thing I’m sure of, is that you can choose to live your life, or you can turn it into a walking shadow. Life is what you make it.





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