I’m a hopeless believer of serendipity. I find myself irresistibly drawn to making connections when seemingly unconnected events line up in a row to articulately spell a message, or provide direction, or sometimes simply to reiterate what is already in my mind, even when I’m being too daft to see it.
Last night, it came in the form of an essay “on (and against) ambition”, that D shared with me. It was the last thing in a day of continuously running into affirmations about a decision that looms large, and it was just the thing I needed to read to reaffirm what I already know but am often too afraid to admit. And to commit to wholeheartedly. So while I swing along with it as the courage comes and goes in waves, this essay was yet another pause, followed by a swift blow to nail, right on its head.
I’ve written about ambition before, and my tussle with accepting what it means to me versus what it means to the world at large. A world that’s constantly sending me messages of what it means to be ambitious, productive, useful, good. To fight the labels, the boxes, the messages and to separate the wheat from the chaff, as it were, to find that which makes most sense to me and cling to it while all about me the world continues to make something else entirely of me, has been a constant work in progress.
The fight has always been mostly internal. And it has been a fight we all have seen ourselves go through in some aspect of our lives or the other. It is a fight to stick by a choice, no matter how atypical it may seem on the outside, because it is what makes most sense to us on the inside. So if you find yourself struggling to fully embrace alternative choices even when it’s what is best for you, if you tire of constantly going against the grain, if you’re wondering if women have it harder (we do) this is a great essay, and maybe it will be a much required blow to the gut for you, like it was for me.
The Snarling Girl, by Elisa Albert. Notes on—and against—ambition.
A few things that stuck out and sealed the deal for me.
Ambition: an earnest desire for some type of achievement or distinction, as power, honor, fame, or wealth, and the willingness to strive for its attainment. Note: we are not speaking here about trying to pay our bills, have a decent place to live, buy decent food, access decent health care, get a decent education. For the purposes of this particular discussion, those fundamentals are assumed. And there’s nothing in there about spiritual betterment, social service, love, or happiness. The entire concept can therefore be seen as anti-feminist. An ideal matriarchy would concern itself exclusively with the quality of our days. Whither the collective desire to make life better for everyone? Ambition is inherently egotistical; it is by definition about being in service of the self. Which has never, not once in the history of humanity (can you tell I’ve not bothered to read Ayn Rand?) made anyone anywhere “happy.”
(I have tried, and failed to get through Ayn Rand a couple of times before. Recently I made the discovery that two of my closest friends have had the same experience, for the same reasons.)
When I was little I wanted to be the president, a fire woman, a teacher, a cheerleader, and a writer. Now all I want is to be happy. And left alone. And I want to know who I am in the context of a world full of hate and domination.
What I would like to say is: Lean In my hairy Jewish ass.
But mostly it was THIS, that got to me because it rings so. damned. true.
Taking care of myself and my loved ones feels like meaningful work to me, see? I care about care. And I don’t care if I’m socialized to feel this way, because in point of fact I do feel this way. So! I am unavailable for striving today. I’m suuuuuper busy.
Keep your head down. Do your work. Focus on the work at hand, not the work that’s done. Do the work you’re called upon to do. Engage with what moves you. Eventually you’ll get recognition. And if you don’t get recognition? Well then, all the more badass to continue working your butt off. Recognition has nothing to do with the work, get it? The work is the endeavor. The work is the process. Recognition comes, if/when it does, for work that is already done, work that is over.
As of yesterday, I am in Bangalore. It was meant to be a longish trip to test waters, but it’s just been 24 hours and already my reasons for doing this have become clear. In my mind, I’ve had well laid plans, but outside of me, things are in churn, full tilt. While I’m gathering my thoughts and trying to proceed through this time one step at a time, around me things are hurtling towards an unclear space in the future at breakneck speed. Reading this though, gave me some much needed clarity. Peace. And, like icing on the humble(and truth) pie, I got two great sounding book reccos out of this essay, and a renewed faith in serendipity too.