(Minor spoiler alert on particular developments in the film, Boyhood.)

Near the end of the movie, Boyhood, there’s a scene where Mason leaves home and drives to college. He’s alone in his blue Toyota pickup on an empty highway that cuts through the Texas desert. The song “Hero,” by Family of the Year, plays on the radio.

Let me go

I don’t wanna be your hero

I don’t wanna be a big man

Just wanna fight with everyone else

 

Your masquerade

I don’t wanna be a part of your parade

Everyone deserves a chance to

Walk with everyone else

The song reveals the silent attitude of Mason, the boy-turned-man. He doesn’t want to be a hero; he wants to do what he wants to do without the expectation of becoming a standout guy. He doesn’t want to be driven by external forces that are thrust on him as a responsibility to be some sort of a hero. He simply wants to get by.

I think many of us can share that sentiment. Fareed Zakaria, author and journalist, recently wrote a piece for the Atlantic Monthly and in the title he calls young Millenials the “Try-Hard Generation.” We’re immersed in an rapidly evolving environment, demanding from individuals more entrepreneurial energy rather than trusting an institution like a company, academy, or government, to carry us from cradle to grave. So there’s immense pressure to perform—to try hard—and achieve something unique and outstanding. As a result, the current crop of young people shares what he calls a “pervasive culture of achievement.” Sheer practicality drives many of our decisions.1

I feel this more acutely now that I’m driving on the other side of the road as Mason, coming out of college. Presently, the unsettling irony of gaining a liberal arts education has been the realization that the more qualifications you accrue, you become more empowered to pursue anything you’d like; yet, at the same time, you’ve taken more steps—knowingly or unknowingly—into paths narrower and more elusive because the expectation to perform have now become much, much higher. You must stand out of the pack and do something that’s great, not just good.

But, like the song says, that’s exactly what I want to step away from. Yes, a college education, even the prospect of free expression and choosing a path in life, are conditions of privilege. Yet the hesitation to embrace the pressures to perform are not borne out simply of self-entitlement or irresponsibility. In fact, it’s the opposite: an external and controlling responsibility is thrust on all of us, and it’s not one that we’re immediately inclined to trust and follow. It’s not that there’s no appreciation of the opportunities and privileges afforded via education, experiences, and place of inhabitance. I just want to know that it’s OK to step back away from expectations to stand out, to achieve and be unique and special.

I envy Mason, driving alone through a beautiful and sunny highway, listening to a nice track on his radio, as he dreams of his next few years. On the way, he stops to get gas and takes some pictures. He’s an aspiring photographer, which is not an easily lucrative career choice. But I get what he’s trying to do; he’s captured by and is himself trying to capture the precious moment, as in a photograph. Even if what’s around us may try and dictate our dreams and desires, I want to be willing and able to pause and be seized, not just by what is practical or achievement-worthy, but by something I find to be personally meaningful and beautiful.2

  1. Interestingly enough, these points are coming from a man (Zakaria) who works in an area most distrusted by those in our age-group: international and American political punditry for CNN. Yet, he’s also just written a book on the history and the relevance and value of the liberal arts in the present age.
  2.  Taken from the lines in the final scene of Boyhood (clip has some strong language).

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