In the film Gattaca, couples are given the option of genetically engineering their children for perfection by altering their DNA. Or, they can naturally conceive and see what they get by chance alone. Society has inferiorly labeled them God’s children. Even the best of them will never be a match for those who are engineered to perfection; or so they think (Gattaca, 1997 Movie Review IMDB).
Gattaca asks us to imagine the value of perfection to life satisfaction and the fulfillment of dreams. We are to imagine a narcissistic world of people so obsessed with their own greatness and superiority that they have engineered away imperfection. For the genetically engineered, extraordinary achievement and good fortune are givens.
The world of Gattaca is not such a far stretch for our minds to grasp. Perfection is already an ideal of many of today’s cultures. But, what if science perfected us to the point that we had little to overcome, to strengthen and to get beyond in our lives? How does perfection take away from our lives rather than add to it?
The Journeyer Within Us
If we had nothing to move toward and to overcome, we’d lose touch with the journeyer in us; that most life-affirming aspect of our nature that motivates us to develop, build and unfold our lives. We are like the mythical Odysseus using life’s twists and turns to find our true selves.
Disadvantage motivates us to journey, to open ourselves up to new experiences that reflect back to us who we are and what we need and want to keep growing. For our development, purpose must be discovered, rather than having it handed to us on a silver platter. Our losses and limitations push us to want more for ourselves that starts the discovery process.
Take for example, my journey from a singing career to a professional psychologist. Many of you know that I wasn’t always a psychologist. From early childhood, I dreamed of becoming a professional singer. When I was 21 years old, I was hired to sing in the chorus of the Chicago Lyric Opera. But, my health difficulties and need to work full time did not permit me to extend my singing career beyond this early experience. Although I was only 23 years old when I had to leave my singing career, I had to start my life again, as if by scratch. I cannot remember a time between the ages of 5 and 23 that I had not put my whole self into becoming a singer. For several years after, I tried my hand at this and then that, which revealed latent talents and desires in me that I would have never explored had I not been disadvantaged.
I came to see that my greatest ally in life was more my disadvantages than my talents and abilities. It gave me the drive to overcome and to dream myself into being. The psychological and spiritual developments I acquired along the way have proven to be blessings that are greater than any of my achievements.
If everything in our lives was set up for us at the start, we’d lose the motivation to strive and to find our true selves in the process. We humans love nothing more than throwing our whole selves into the process of living, to see if, indeed, what we’ve imagined for ourselves is actually a possibility.
This point is beautifully demonstrated in the film Gattaca. Naturally conceived, Vincent (Ethan Hawke) and his genetically-engineered brother, Anton set out to see who can swim farthest out into the ocean. Vincent not only beats out his biologically-superior brother Anton but also saves him from drowning.
When Anton asks him how he did it, Vincent replies; “I never saved anything for the swim back.”
Disadvantage can be a powerful source of inspiration and willpower, if we use it to our advantage. Against all odds, we may achieve beyond our wildest imaginations, because disadvantage puts us in the exquisite position of having less to lose that opens us to taking risks.
The next time you feel worried that a limitation or weakness may get in the way of your success and fulfillment, remember, “There is no gene for fate.” So, in the words of Vincent, don’t save anything, my friends. Fully explore your disadvantages, to see where life takes you.