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It’s been only about a month since the season three finale of Showtime’s Homeland, but critics of the show, both of the professional and homespun variety, remain divided. While some argue that the narrative managed to get (and stay) off track somewhere in the middle of season two, others remain devoted, unwilling to abandon the characters in the middle of their arcs, even through the prospect of the story’s often dubious-seeming future.

Still, if the continued upswing in the ratings is any indication, even through cycles of doubt and disappointment fans have one thing in common: they’re still watching.

Although television success usually requires consistently superior writing (with bonus points for deliciously unpredictable content), the rules are somehow different for Homeland, which is a testament to the depth and reality of the characters and the resulting fidelity and familiarity that we feel for them. Viewers fell in love and wanted more of Homeland from the very first episode. They came for the writing and the promise of thrillingly clever plot twists, but even when it lost its way, they stayed for the characters.

At its heart, the premise of Homeland is simple: it’s a show about a woman who is exceptional at what she does. President of Showtime David Nevins confirmed that for us earlier this month. So it should come as no surprise that such a premise would captivate audiences the world over; in fiction as in life, we love to watch brilliant people be brilliant. Just like Saul Berenson (played by Mandy Patinkin), the audience will not give up on Carrie Mathison (played by Claire Danes) no matter her antics and frequently erratic behavior.

…in fiction as in life, we love to watch brilliant people be brilliant.

Though much is made of her numerous liabilities, many of which arise as the result of a personality disorder, Carrie Mathison excels at her job. She does so not merely because she has obsessive, exhaustive tendencies (which lend to an incredibly thorough approach to her work) but also because she is a woman, and a determined one at that. She has this fierce, intuitive emotional attachment to what she does —the same kind of attachment through which women who are in their professional element in the “real world” thrive. Though in her office she’s surrounded by gifted agents, she stands alone. Her work is, in every way, her baby.

Though men are not, of course, exempt to finding and searching for a passion in and a connection to their work, the impetus and the expression are distinct. While men seek to achieve from the instinct to provide, women do so from a desire to please, so we as women are more prone to entwine our self-esteem with our performance—and have a more difficult time leaving work at the office.

While men seek to achieve from the instinct to provide, women do so from a desire to please, so we as women are more prone to entwine our self-esteem with our performance…

When you take away Carrie’s struggles with mental illness, alcohol, and an inappropriate romance with a sometimes terrorist—stuff that molds a robustly complex character, and as such, adds to the addictiveness of the television drama—Carrie is, at her core, a gifted and ambitious woman. She is the consummate achiever type who has managed, at an impressively young age, to find and excel at the kind of profession for which she was born.

She is like many young women of her generation’s striving class, ones who are equipped with lofty dreams, big plans and amazing gifts that, when coupled with the optimism of youth and the wisdom of maturity, discover the same kind of intense emotional connection to their work that we see in Carrie. When they make things happen, they make magic.

Carrie’s office sits at the convergence of innate passion, ability and interest—a seemingly elusive career locale for which we all search and strive, but in which we fear we cannot permanently reside once we find it—if we are ever fortunate to find it at all.  Though our generation increasingly tends to seek fulfilling, purposeful career paths instead of merely a paycheck, we must acknowledge that professional fulfillment is not the only kind of currency we ought to accrue.

…we must acknowledge that professional fulfillment is not the only kind of currency we ought to accrue.

Within the expanse of the intelligence operations world, Carrie is in a league of her own. Though the experience of being singled out amongst one’s peers is a triumph, it can also become a lonesome path if our job becomes our sole (and soul’s) reason for being. Life outside of the meaningful day job can grow devoid of meaning and, as in Carrie’s case, can be riddled with empty coping mechanisms, stunted by a refusal to let people in, and beset by the desperation of trying to cling to that which ought to be released.

The experience of finding a professional purpose that aligns so perfectly with a person’s dreams is a laudable pursuit. When there is no distinction between what we do and who we are, when we cannot distinguish our identity from our job description, we lose ourselves. And we lose the magic that drew us to where we once wanted to be in the first place.

Hard work is essential. A meaningful career is important. Fulfilling our aspirations is great. But if we onto these things too tightly, we can actually lose our grip on them entirely. Even the most capable and passionate achievers among us often need a loving reminder that our lives are not just career ladders. Rather, seeking professional fulfillment ought to be just one rung on the ladder to a full and happy life.

Here’s hoping we will see Carrie Mathison make that climb this year.

Image via Annie Leibovitz for Vogue

1 comment

  1. Tricia, thank you for that fantastic and well-written article! I find as a woman in the workforce it takes dedication not only to be great at what I do but aspire to become a better person. Thank you for the encouragement.

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