Ask First What You Can Do For Yourself


In a previous article I spoke about the merits of a career-oriented education and it brought to mind a well-known quotation from the twentieth century: “ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.” Upon careful consideration, I’ve decided that I hate this piece of wisdom.  ‘Hate’ is such a strong word though. Maybe I should say that I do not adhere to it entirely and here’s why. This patriotic mantra, attributed to the late John F. Kennedy, seemingly drenched in well-meaning selflessness, encouraging generations to abandon selfishness and work in the pursuit of the happiness of the collective whole, is a bit too self-righteous for my liking.

I know that such a statement was made with the best of intentions, probably harking back to the age of Enlightenment when the Swiss philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, developed similar ideals. However, let us consider for a while some of what it actually implies. It asks us to put our faith in the state to a certain extent, to allow national interests instead of personal ones to guide our actions. Now as noble as that may seem, the problem is that it sounds almost like religious indoctrination, I dare say. Living by such a principle limits one’s opportunities as well as his choices as far as careers are concerned.

Starting out my first year as an undergraduate student, two years ago, as if dealing with my own confused ambitions weren’t enough, I took myself on a mini guilt trip because I felt that what I really wanted to do then – journalism, would never, in any way, benefit my home country. I felt that I was betraying my nation and didn’t deserve anything from it, in terms of social aid and so on. Never would I ever qualify for a scholarship from the state if journalism was my chosen career path, intelligent student or not. The bottom line was that I did not want to become a teacher – even if my studies would be well-suited to that profession – and that alone was enough to disqualify me (for a scholarship, which I eventually received but not from my own government). So I suppose I took that statement too seriously and, unsurprisingly, I’ve grown to hate it. I believe that if someone has to take Kennedy’s statement to heart, he may not reach his full potential as an individual, he would only be limiting himself, and besides how does one expect to do any good for his country if he can’t do the same for himself?

I therefore propose an amendment to the aforementioned declaration: when choosing a career in particular, ask first what you can do for yourself and then you can think about how you can put that to work in the best interest of your country. In the same way that I believe a more liberal education may, in the long run, actually be for the greater good, I also think that one should get a career that makes him happy because a happy population ultimately produces a prosperous nation. I’m sure that most already follow that line of thinking, but for the other one percent who, like me, takes the “what you can do for your country” bit a little too seriously, I say to you, don’t. And here again, I am the tireless proponent of the motto, ‘do what you love.’

Of course my point of view could be considered as cynical and alas, selfish, and one can even ask the question, how do you expect our future leaders to be any good if they think in the same way that you do? Then again, this is only personal opinion and should be taken (as should be the case with all my articles as well as the famous quotation in question), to a certain degree, with the proverbial ‘pinch of salt’ and not as universal doctrine.




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