Learning about Work from ‘La La Land’

Here’s to the ones who dream . . . perhaps.

La La Land is one of those rare movies that captures not only emotion, but imagination on the silver screen. The music, color, classic Hollywood nostalgia, and pastiche of something new—it all struck me like a jazz piano. I loved the film. It caught me up into the beauty and artistry of two people whose friendship compels them to be better people. Perhaps the movie left such an impression because I grew up in Los Angeles and could relate to the traffic, the broken dreams, and the ebbs and flows of a town that “worships everything and values nothing.”

When I sat down afterwards, reigning in my scattered thoughts down from the stars of the Griffith Observatory, I found the film had taught me a number of things about the value of friendship, and the costs of chasing a dream.

Myself included, La La Land touched a nerve with millennials, partly because we recognize ourselves in the characters on screen. When Mia (Emma Stone) works as a barista at Starbucks for years to achieve her dreams of becoming a famous actress, none of us criticized her life decision. We thought: of course, if she wanted to become a somebody, she needed to be a nobody for a while. I know many of my friends have said the same thing, and have taken jobs they don’t love for the chance at a satisfying job someday.

Dreams are good things; they’re God-given in many cases. Some of us have the great fortune of discovering the one thing that we want to do with our lives when we are young. Mia and Sebastian were both such dreamers, and they bore a lot of criticism for their commitment to a dream that seemed crazy for years. Rather than give up with the first bit of criticism, Mia and Sebastian both cultivated their dreams and tried time and time again to do what they were most passionate about—jazz music and acting.

Millennials who grew up on Disney now mock the adages to ‘follow your heart’ and ‘pursue your dreams,’ because in real life the princess doesn’t find her prince and the prince turns out to be a slouch. It was refreshing to watch a film that didn’t give into the cynicism of anti-hero despair, but didn’t sell a bubble gum guarantee of happily ever after either. No, this film portrayed the raw reality that many dreams are tried by failure and strengthened by disappointment. Mia didn’t give up acting after the first casting director ignored her teary performance. Sebastian didn’t give up his dream of owning a club when the jazz club he loved became a samba and tapas place. Both Sebastian and Mia had to struggle against discouragement—and shine like flickering streetlights in a city of stars.

Yet even as starry-eyed dreamers, they needed more than motivation to achieve their dreams—they needed someone to believe in them. In each other they found the courage to seize opportunity and become their most creative selves. Sebastian wouldn’t allow Mia to pout in Nevada and dragged her off to her final casting call. Mia wouldn’t let Sebastian give up his dream of opening a jazz club when he joined his friend’s band. Both of them needed the other to become their best self. In their relationship they found the courage to go all-out in pursuing their dreams.

Which is why the story is bittersweet. While Mia and Sebastian were willing to sacrifice every material comfort in order to achieve their dreams, they were not willing to wait so that their partner could be part of their future. Both Sebastian and Mia had an option to choose to wait on their dream coming true and support the other person’s dreams in the meantime. They chose to pursue their own dreams, which made them better at their career, but I’m not sure I would recommend their life choices.

As millennials, we glamorize a notion of work that elevates a personal dream to the point that human relationships could never compete. With potent uncertainty about our future and more dreams than we know what to do with, we set out for the big city, leaving our parents and hometowns behind. In order to do what we love, we sacrifice sleep, material comfort, and free time. But is that how we should live?

Dreams are a beautiful thing, but they are best shared with the people you love. And so I ask myself the question that I ask all of us: Will you sacrifice for what you love, but not for your beloved?

Image via Unsplash.

Aimee Stauf is a 2015 graduate from Patrick Henry College with a degree in Journalism. She currently works as an Admissions Counselor for her alma mater and spends her free time finding adventures with friends, making music, or creating art. Some of her favorites are classic movies and art museums. 
Twitter: @StaufAimee
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  • April 17, 2017


    Thank you for your insightful thoughts!

  • April 20, 2017

    Aimee Stauf

    Sheila, thank you for your encouragement!

  • April 27, 2017


    “Dreams are a beautiful thing, but they are best shared with the people you love. And so I ask myself the question that I ask all of us: Will you sacrifice for what you love, but not for your beloved?

    You have closed with a masterful thought. Thanks!