Greener Pastures

Seth Godin recently pointed me to the following pictograph that depicts the difference between the way people think professional photographers spend their time and the way they actually do. (Godin, in turn, found it from SwissMiss, who found it on a photography blog, and so on. That’s the way the web works!)


After noting the humor in the discrepancy, he asks why more photographers (or any of us in the analogous situations of our lives), don’t spend a little time and effort to move more toward the ideal by “clearing the decks” – that is, outsourcing some of the nitty-gritty details of our work to others. Even if that costs more, he reasons, we’d be able to spend more time on our passions and probably recoup the investment.

While I appreciate this point of view and think it’s a fair question, I had another reaction to the pictograph altogether: greener pastures. You know the saying, “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” Or, as Martin Luther once put it (in one of those great sayings for which I can’t find a record that he actually said it!): “Ideals are of the devil!”

By this Luther doesn’t mean, I think, that we shouldn’t try to strive for ideals like being honest or working hard, etc. Rather, he means that we often adopt unrealistic – indeed, nonexistent! – ideals and use them to judge unfavorably our present and, Luther would add, God-given reality.

How many brides or grooms, for instance, once the honeymoon is over are terribly disappointed to discover that their new spouse really isn’t perfect? How often do we sit and daydream about another and better job rather than make the most of the one we have? How many young women (and, increasingly, young men) measure themselves against an unrealistic and unattainable standard of beauty lifted up by the culture and end up not just feeling bad about, but hating, their actual bodies? (And this isn’t, of course, restricted to the young – how many of us feel good about our bodies when we are constantly subjected to pictures of what the culture holds up as “perfect”?)

Sometimes, of course, there is a better job out there or we need to leave a difficult or damaging relationships. No question. At the same time, we are prone to denigrate the God-given reality that is right in front of us because we compare it to an idealized fantasy about the perfect relationship, body, job, child, or whatever.

Dealing with the reality in front of us, of course, is no easy matter – hence the appeal of fantasies. But can we, perhaps, form communities where we support each other in valuing and making the most of the humdrum and sometimes difficult realities in front of us simply because they are real rather than fantasy? And can we remind each other, from time to time, that so many of the things our culture holds up for us to admire actually aren’t real but are utter fabrications?

This second one may sound a little odd, but I think is so incredibly important. In an economy increasingly dependent on consumer spending, we are subjected to more and more advertising that has just one goal: to make us feel that what we have, who we are with, and who we are…is inadequate. We need, I think, to create communities that remind us of what is real and what is not. Thanks for your help in this endeavor!