Friday, June 4, 2010

Own Your Ambition

The world makes way for those who know where they are going.

I tend to assume that other people are fundamentally like me.

Sometimes this is good: after all, just because someone is 20 years older (or younger) than me, or votes differently than me, or comes from the other side of the planet, or has a completely different job or educational history, etc... doesn't mean that we can't care about many of the same things or have similar underlying hopes and dreams.

On the other hand, sometimes people are not like me at all. Often I'm just fascinated. Really? You believe [completely different set of values and/or life philosophies]? How is that possible? Weird. Okay. But periodically I find myself totally blindsided. This recently happened to me in the area of AMBITION.

So as not to point fingers at people who are actually in my social circle, I'm going to use Jacob Appel as my example here. You may have heard about Jacob by reading one of his more-than-one-hundred short stories that have been published in the most prestigious literary markets around the world. You may have read his communications with Literary Rejections On Display, which included his estimation that he has received eleven thousand rejection letters on the way to getting those publications. He's also a bioethicist as well as an author. He has a B.A., two M.A.s and an M.Phil., an M.D., an M.F.A., and a J.D. And he's 37. Born not-quite 10 months before me, in fact. Oh, and he's a licensed sight-seeing guide for NYC.

And I thought taking the NY and MA bar exams at the same time was hard.

I mean seriously, who has that kind of time? More importantly, who has that kind of drive? Let's face it, I like sitting on my butt some nights instead of mailing out 11,000 copies of various short stories to various markets (not to mention the time it took to write those stories). Relatedly, I never wanted to be a partner at a law firm, and I didn't want to be in film badly enough to be willing to waitress (or do whatever other odd job was available to me) between acting gigs. I am just not that ambitious.

I used to feel bad about this. But I've decided to own my ambitions. I have them, to be sure. But we don't all need to want everything, all the time. For myself, I want to write well and do good work, then check out and be with my family.

This is also why I went back to work part-time after having my daughter. I wanted to spend part of the day using my education and writing skills and socializing with adults, then spend part of the day as Mom. Some parents want more time at home, others want less. Some writers want to give up everything for art, some don't. There is nothing inherently wrong with any of those choices; these are our own personal ambitions, and may we all be granted what we seek.

Have you "owned" your ambitions? Are you comfortable where you are? Are you trying to be BETTER than you are now? Or are you still trying to figure out what you want?

What kind of writer do you want to be?


  1. ooo, what a great post! I hit Comment and then realized - I DON'T KNOW! So much to think about. I'm always trying to be better than what I am - better looking, a better mom, a better writer, a better employee. You name it, I've got a self-help book on it.

  2. Ambition. It's a prized virtue and a flaw and a curse all at the same time. To me, owning your ambition (which is a great concept, by the way) is about balance. You like to balance the work you like to do with the work you feel you can do and provide for your family with your family with other things. Finding the balance that is right for you isn't lack of ambition, it's balancing ambition with other things you value more or less or the same.

    I am still looking for the balance that works for me. I think I know what/where it is, it's just challenging to get to: I would *like* to be the kind of writer who writes for a living, rather than the kind of writer I am now, who writes because I love it and can't help it but barely have time because I make my living in another, extremely time-sucking, fashion. Ideally, then my other interests would mesh a little better with the writing, and I'd end up with the balance I don't have now.

    And that's what drives my ambition. They say sales is a numbers game: you want to make a sale, you have to knock on enough doors. I see success as a numbers games as well, meaning that there are many paths to get to that place holding my balance, and pursuing as many of them as possible might seem overly ambitious to some, but to me it's just me trying to stack the deck in my favor.

    Then again, as a friend said to me last weekend: "Let's just call this like it is. If you're in one place for too long, you start to feel like you're growing mold."

    Yes, yes, that's me. And I'm happy with that.

  3. My ambition is to write well not only write well but to be happy with myself. Right now I work part-time so that I can be mom and writer. And while I am happy with that I still set goals so I don't feel as if I'm in a rut, or likely to fall into one.

  4. My ambitions and I grapple with each other every day. Currently I:

    Am writing a book
    Am at University
    Work part time
    Have a fiance and am planning a wedding
    Do Brazillian Ju Jitsu
    Do Muay Thai Kick Boxing
    Maintain a website

    People give me odd looks when I tell them what I do with my time. With all that said, I do to much, and often I pay for it by being ill a at the moment I'm paring down my commitments.

  5. My ambition is to go to bed before midnight so I can get up early and write. What? It's 1:30 am? Crap.

    Er... my ambition is to have realistic ambitions. I think. Yes.

    Oh, and great post, good lady. Well said!

  6. If I haven't written in 3 days, I get cranky and sullen. But firstly, I'm a husband & parent, so I try to squeez in the time where I can.

  7. PS There's an award for you on my Blog.

  8. Well, my current ambitions are to be a writer and go to grad school for screen-writing. As my less-than-supportive relatives/older-adult friends keep "reminding me," "writing's not good enough" and I "need to do something useful."

    Um... k?

    Yeah, I've got skills, but writing's my strong point. Nothing else has really been developed professionally. As a result, since graduating uni, I spent endless hours searching for a writing/editing-related job.


    I have thankfully landed myself a part-time job, which is fine while I'm still living with the parents. But I'm still looking for more work. And, of course, I'm still balancing in my writing because my ambitions are to be a writer and go to grad school for screen-writing.

    I'm still scraping by on pennies, but hey, I gotz ambishunz. ;D