Star Trek: To boldly embrace passions…or to obliterate work-life balance?

Star Trek made the cover of the May 4 edition of Newsweek, with the headline reading “To Boldly Go…How ‘Star Trek’ Taught Us To Dream Big.”  Inside, there’s an extended preview essay about the upcoming “Star Trek” motion picture (http://www.newsweek.com/id/195082).  Writer Steve Daly gives his approval of the new big screen release:

A movie built to celebrate diversity, understanding and hope is definitely audacious. It’s enough to make anyone feel that right now, here on earth and out in the final frontier, we have liftoff.

I’ll leave it to others to determine how the new Star Trek movie may speak to our current political and social milieu.  Instead, let’s briefly consider how the Star Trek phenomenon validates the quest for work that matters to us, while affirming the kind of work-life imbalance that is the scourge of many a personal “mission.”

Between the original Star Trek, its inspired sequel Star Trek: The Next Generation, and the motion pictures emanating from both, the ideal life is portrayed as passionate adventure, full of risk and peril, but always with a zest for discovery and an affirmation of the intellect.  There are no homes or shopping centers, few kids or pets, and very little of the everyday humdrum and detail that make for so much of middle class life.  Instead, the individuals of the starship Enterprise are on a mission, which they pursue with an almost single-minded devotion.

With Star Trek and its heirs, life on a starship is all encompassing.  The officers and crew live where they work.  There rarely is such a thing as a “vacation,” unless beaming down to a planet that may serve up life-threatening beings or diseases counts as Club Med or the French Riviera.  Alas, to my knowledge, none of the Star Trek incarnations feature an employee assistance program or union shop steward to address issues of overwork or chronic stress.

Perhaps I can identify with Star Trek’s depiction of life and work because even though academe is quite the opposite of a bold mission to other galaxies, both realms share an immersive state that allows one to pursue passions at the frequent expense of meaningful separation between home and office.  Plenty of other vocations foster the same dynamic.

The chance to do work that brings deeper personal meaning along with a decent paycheck is indeed a blessing, but there are downsides for those of us who get too caught up in it.  Indeed, a more true-to-life version of Star Trek might feature a long line at the office of the starship’s therapist and a lot of Star Fleet personnel fantasizing about retiring to tend to a vegetable garden, read novels, or watch Monday Night Football.

4 responses

    • Uh…as only a casual watcher, I must’ve missed that one! As a fan of Counselor Troi, I do hope she enjoyed herself.

  1. Interesting post! I’ve become a recent fan of the the original series, and can’t help watching from an occupational health lens as well. They do often reference pleasure planets and one episode even features a “shore leave” where off-duty members get a vacation. I think it is implied that this is a common occurence when they encounter a friendly planet. However, I don’t think the main cast members (“executive team”)ever get that luxury! I think what is more disturbing is that Captain Kirk always sacrifices his personal relationships for his ship, and seems to only have quasi-healthy relationships with two of his coworkers (Spock and McCoy). But maybe this is analogous to any CEO (or devoted researcher)? On the other hand, the regular crew seems to spend a lot of time in the “rec room” (which does seem to match any on-site recreational/fitness facility).

    As another humourous aside, McCoy often does serve as a para-psychologist, citing his expertise in “space psychology.” I would hope any futuristic notion of space psychology would be beyond its current focus on astronaut selection issues to include employee assistance aspects, given such cozy work and living arrangements. Given the above evidence, I’ve always pictured Star Trek as having some sort of “Live Long and Prosper Programs,” though they certainly wouldn’t make the most interesting storylines…

    • Lacie, I enjoyed your response — and appreciate your gentle correction of some of my overcharacterizations of the program!

      Recently I watched several episodes of the original Star Trek and realized that I had underestimated the brilliance of the scripts and the writing. In fact, now I’m using a few Amazon gift certificates to purchase the remastered edition of the series!

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