Ego and Purpose: An Internal War

Egoism and political purpose—those are two of the main building blocks that Orwell lays out for a writer in her or his quest to hone their craft.  He also states that the elements that drive one to write can “war against each other.” This struck me because last semester, I learned how harsh said warring could be.

Fall semester of 2013 spurred an internal conflict within me like never before. I started the semester with over-optimistic and egoistic goals of taking both Feature Film Writing and Television writing and getting a gold star in each of them. I was sure it would be a time filled with passion, productivity, and success.

But a disaster presented itself to me: the industrial food system. In conjunction with my writing classes, I was fulfilling my distribution requirement by taking a course on Food, Energy, and the Environment. In it, I was presented with the injustices the modern industrial food system poses to consumers, the environment, and the world at large. I took an unnatural amount of passion in the class, watching lectures with a chest swollen with anger and the desire to make change.

Now cut to my screenwriting classes: I sat indifferent in workshops, listening to people debate whether the cat in the script should be real or an illusion. Or watching an episode from New Girl (a show I can’t stand). Or hearing about the conditions of the TV and Film industry in which a quality writer will have to take whatever writing job they can get no matter how low quality it is.  In these classes I was angry because I didn’t see why any of this mattered. What was I learning from this to help me change the world? Why were we spending fifteen damn minutes discussing the possible phantom cat when we have corporations destroying something as essential as the food we eat?

Writing had lost its glamour. It now seemed…horribly egoistic. It seemed like a place for hiding from real issues. It seemed like a place to sacrifice political purpose in order to BE HEARD on the big or small screen. You sell your soul, write for the Kardashians, and get ahead.  Keep an eye on the ratings and your connections. And maybe one day, after spending a decade digging through the industry, you’ll be part of the one percent that gets to make something that truly changes a flaw in society. But that’s a big maybe.

So the horrible question most of us face arose: what am I doing with my life? Am I going to doggedly work fulfill my ego’s dreams of crafting stories, or am I going to dedicate myself to concrete political change at any level? And if I could merge the two, would it still be for my ego? If I found a way to be a voice of political change, would it be because I feel I have some natural right to BE HEARD? Would it actually just be me egoistically, as Orwell puts it, trying “to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get [my] own back on the grown-ups who snubbed [me] in childhood.”  Could I find a way to feel like I was making concrete change through my writing, not just writing for my ego and passion under the guise of making change? Could I purely “push the world in a certain direction?” Did egoist pretenses even matter if it causes positive change? And should I really need to be an agent of change? Was my passion for writing out of love or out of ego, and was pure love for something enough to justify a life pathway even though it didn’t lead to a  better world?

I still haven’t found the answers. Maybe that’s why I’m here in the minor.


3 thoughts to “Ego and Purpose: An Internal War”

  1. Jacob, thank you so much for your honesty about the struggles of purpose and egoism, because I think every one feels these pressures, but most of us are less willing to share them. I totally understand worrying about the seemingly ugly motive of ego. Yet, I think if it helps you write then maybe it isn’t so bad, and Orwell’s admission that is a part of the process relieves some of the stigma. I think the beauty of this course and the minor is that it gives you time to discover how you can reconcile your ego, creating stories, and the political purpose you talk about. You don’t have to sell out yet! You still have plenty of time to experiment and answer your questions.

  2. I have also experienced this kind of internal struggle. I have always loved writing, known I was good at it, and pursued it despite misgivings. At first, I was determined to become a fiction writer. I was embarrassingly obsessed with the type of Young Adult fiction that spurs millions of teenage girls to wear shirts and pins emblazoned with the saying “Team Edward,” and I was convinced that I too, one day, would write something that “good.” After I realized how truly stupid Twilight and its YA counterparts were, I was able to get a grip on myself and decide that teen fiction, much as I had loved it, was not the direction in which I wanted to take my writing. So I moved on to children’s books. I took inspiration from the obvious – Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Percy Jackson, and once again quickly realized that this purpose, like my brief fling with YA fiction, wasn’t my forte either. So now I am in the same sort of rut as you – I love writing, but am not quite sure how to channel that love. For now, I’m going to continue through the minor and hope that something strikes and sticks with me longer than the first two “great inspirations” did.

  3. You raise a lot of great points, and I loved the dig at the Kardashians later on in your piece. In a lot of ways, I feel like you can expand the issue of doing whatever it takes to get ahead to a lot of jobs and positions now, and not just writing I think that overall it is the people that are cognizant of this shift towards doing whatever it takes to be successful, and instead are focused on staying true to themselves and the quality of their work, are the type of people that end up not only producing the most beneficial work, but often times it is the most rewarding for them personally, as well as those that consume their work. This was a nice piece to read, and it’s always a great debate of the ethics and reasons for trying to get ahead in the workforce.

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