A couple of weeks ago I saw the movie ‘Stranger Than Fiction‘, starring Will Ferrell and Maggie Gyllenhaal in the lead roles, and backed up by great performances by Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman (one of my all time favorite actors.. remember ‘Kramer vs. Kramer‘ and ‘Rain Man‘?). As much as I was impressed by the performance of Will Ferrell, the movie’s story-line didn’t appeal a lot at the start, but as I watched on, it just turned out to be one of those “need-to-take-a-look-at-the-quality-of-your life” type of movies. Another such movie which immediately comes to memory is ‘Groundhog Day’ (starring Bill Murray), another masterpiece.
Right, so now that I have finished showing off my movie-memorization skills, let’s move on. Beyond the original message of this movie, there was one dialogue / conversation between the lead actors which stuck with me long after I had finished watching it, so I thought I should share it with all of you. The conversation takes place in the bakery which is run by Ana Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character). Harold Crick (Will Ferrell’s character), a habitually non-enthusiastic IRS agent working for the US government, audits Ana’s business one day, and being a huge hater of taxmen and the government’s policies, she makes sure that he has a lousy time auditing her.
But somewhere inside she is slightly impressed by Harold’s genuineness and his commitment, in what he feels is his way of making the world a better place by helping the government in collecting taxes, which would then use the money to implement social welfare schemes. As night falls, he decides to call it a day and leave for home. Just then she offers him some fresh cookies that she has just baked. He reluctantly accepts the offer and strikes a conversation with her about how she ended up being a baker.
Harold: So when did you decide to become a baker?
Ana: In college..
Harold: Oh, like in a cooking college?
Ana: I went to Harvard Law actually.
Harold: Oh, I’m sorry, I just assumed it was..
Ana: No, no, that’s fine. I didn’t finish.
Harold: Something happened?
Ana: No, I was barely accepted. I mean, really, barely! The only reason they let me come was because of my essay – ‘How I was going to make the world a better place with my degree’. And, anyway we would have to participate in these study sessions.. my classmates and I.. sometimes all night long.. and so I baked.. so that no one would go hungry while we worked. Sometimes I would bake all afternoon in the kitchen in the dorm and I would bring my little treats to the study groups.. and people loved them. I made oat milk cookies, peanut-butter bars, dark chocolate, macadamia nut wedges, and everyone would eat and stay happy and study harder and be better on the tests.. and then more and more people started coming to the study groups.. and I’d bring more snacks.. and I was always looking for better and better recipes.. until soon it was.. apricot croissants.. and mocha bars with a almond glaze, and lemon chiffon cake with a zesty peach icing.. and at the end of the semester I had 27 study partners.. 8 mead journals filled with recipes.. and a ‘D’ average. So I dropped out. I just figured that if I was going to make the world a better place I would do it with cookies.
For me, this was the hidden message in the movie. We often decide our career path very early in life, and follow it so staunchly that we easily turn a blind eye to all other opportunities and gateways which can take us to the same destination, albeit using a different path, often the less trodden one. It’s not as if one path is better than the other, the point here is to recognize the one to which we are best suited to – the one that can give us the most satisfaction at the end of the day. Sure, earning a bit of money along the way doesn’t do much harm either.
In our society, people with unconventional careers often have a very different backgrounds. Persons in the music and theatre industry are prime examples. Some people I know in this field have been trained to become engineers and doctors. Most would admit that as time went by, their life was shaped by designs and events much beyond their control. Still, many would say that they have not drifted a lot from their original ambitions, only the means to achieve those have changed. They still manage to put a smile on the face of the people in front of them, if not by using a healing-hand and a stethoscope, then by using witty humor in their plays or by some melodious piece of music that they have created.
I think this still contributes to the task of ‘making the world a better place’!