Therefore, many of those whose homes are most at risk are victims of their need to live beyond their realistic financial means, mainly for the sake of living up to a social image and impressing their neighbors.
In principle, the issue pointed out by Einstein applies equally to "overly ambitious" first home buyers in the half-million dollar range as to Wall Street debt traders for whom that same amount represents the price of water craft more than primary residences. Obviously, the comparison was not something completely foreign to me before, but the words of Einstein impressed the idea on me in a more meaningful way nevertheless, especially in combination with some of his other observations, such as:
The aim (of education) must be the training of independently acting and thinking individuals who, however, can see in the service to the community their highest life achievement.... Never regard your study as a duty, but as the enviable opportunity to learn to know the liberating influence of beauty in the realm of the spirit for your own personal joy and to the profit of the community to which your later work belongs."
To be sure, the idea of devoting one's life to the betterment of the world is a hackneyed goal probably more suited to parodies of beauty pageant contestants than to realistic motivation behind aspiring investment bankers. Still, I believe it is also possible to combine the intellectual satisfaction of professional achievement within my field with the sentiments expressed so eloquently by Einstein.
First, the examples set by the philanthropic efforts of Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, and Ted Turner demonstrate that personal achievement and the accumulation of material wealth provide some of the greatest opportunities to contribute to the betterment of society and to its less fortunate constituents. Undoubtedly, aspiring to benefit society by becoming a cardiac surgeon is also a commendable goal, but it is difficult to compare the overall contribution of even the most accomplished health care provider with a financier whose efforts establish clinics employing hundreds of surgeons.
Furthermore, when I consider Einstein's observations about the most common psychological motivation underlying professional goals and human achievement, it seems that it applies as much even to the most worthwhile aspirations, (such as becoming a physician), as to professional careers that are more directly related to finance.
To be perfectly honest, Einstein's writings clarified my perspective on aspects of my professional goals about which I already had certain ambivalent feelings, but which I had not yet been forced to confront or analyze in great detail. I have a genuine intellectual passion for the analytical elements and the challenges inherent in my chosen academic field. However, the financial excesses and moral transgressions associated with my field in various relatively recent high-profile cases has troubled me simultaneously.
While I cannot necessarily say that I would not have otherwise reached the same resolution on my own, I do consider my discovery of Einstein's writings to have corroborated my general feelings about the moral implications of aspiring to financial success in my chosen field. Previously, my altruistic future intentions were, at least to a certain degree, motivated as much as means of "justifying" my professional goals as by my inherent desire to achieve them for their own sake. Since my exposure to Einstein's writings, I would say that my desire to benefit society in some meaningful way through my eventual success is more of a genuine, affirmative goal rather than a "justification."
Frankly, I do hope to enjoy the thrill of applying my talents and knowledge to become successful in my chosen field and even to enjoy some of the (admittedly) superficial thrills and benefits it may provide. But Einstein's writings have helped me reconcile those goals with more meaningful aspects of professional success. Ultimately, I hope to enjoy the intellectual thrill of applying my talents to the complex analyses for which I have been trained knowing that the same efforts will also enable me to benefit society as much as (or even more than) any other professional goal that motivates professional achievement in all of us.