I overheard a conversation discussing a certain young woman who works at a bakery. The conversation was between a grandparent and parent of a young man who is dating the certain young woman. Apparently this young woman has a college degree that she is not using. I didn’t hear what the degree was in. The grandparent asked if the bakery job was temporary until she found a more suitable job in her field. The parent said no that the certain young lady enjoyed working at the bakery. The grandparent then stated that he felt this certain young lady was not ambitious enough to be dating the young man. The people having the conversation moved away and I did not hear anything else.
Wow! That conversation was very offensive to me. I wanted to speak up for the certain young lady. I wanted to say that ambition and success have different meanings for different people and what works for you does not work for everyone else. Why do some people feel the need to meddle in others lives because they see them as not “ambitious” enough?
According to the Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary the definition of “ambition” is an ardent desire for rank, fame or power; desire to achieve a particular end; and/or a desire for activity or exertion. What does ambition have to do with living a creative life? Quite a lot, actually.
For example, how many people are using their exact college degree? When talking about ambition with two of my friends, I learned that neither of them are currently working in the field in which they hold their college degree. Which got me thinking about other friends. One friend of mine is career military but has a college degree in education and another has a PHD in Forestry but is not working in that field. I have a BA in Art. My current day job is in a law office. When applying for jobs not in the art field, I would often get asked the question, “Why should I hire someone with an art degree?” My response, “Because I am a professional at creative problem solving.” Just because you have a degree in something doesn’t mean you are going to work in that career field.
The world of my grandparents and to some extent my parents was that you had a job and you worked in that one job in that one career field until you retired or died. The world of work has changed greatly. We are a very mobile society. The average person my age will change jobs an average of eight times (this depends on whose statistics you use) and careers at least twice. You can double those numbers for people just ten years younger. The traditional idea of being in one job in one career field is no longer true for the vast majority of our society.
One thing that remains true is the idealized work ethic. Arrive early. Stay late. Take work on your vacation, if you take a vacation. Personal life and family are second to the job. When you take on a job, it is expected that your life and ambitions are now part of the company. This unrealistic and idealized standard of working is unhealthy. Yet it is considered normal. Have you seen the car commercial with a man leaving the office at the time his work day is done? The tag line of the commercial is “When did leaving work on time become an act of bravery?” How sad that as a society unhealthy work ethics are considered a behavioral norm and a part of being ambitious.
I too suffered from the unhealthy work ethic of ambition. I had been an Executive Director managing organizations a couple different times in my life. I was also the Regional Fund Director (professional fundraiser and grant writer) for a regional non-profit organization. I worked ridiculous hours. I was unable to attend family holidays because of work deadlines and employer expectations. I took work with me when I would go on vacation. These were all choices I made. Now I make different choices.
I know that there are members of my family and friends who do not think that I am ambitious enough. (This is probably the reason that the conversation affected me the way that it did.) One friend said that they thought I should be managing an organization or doing something really “productive.” A certain family member has stated to me on multiple occasions, “If only you had gotten that degree in _____ (fill in the blank) instead of art, you could be making some real money.”
I have a different idea of ambition. To me it is about quality of life. I am an administrative assistant to an attorney. I work an average of 34 hours a week. My employer is flexible when I am teaching creativity classes or have an exhibition. I can take a vacation without taking my job with me. When talking to a friend of mine who is a musician, he talked about the need for his job to be flexible when he has a gig. A strict nine-to-five forty hour work week doesn’t work for him. It’s not about money, prestige or power. It’s about being able to do the creative work and working out how to live by the fruits of our creative endeavors.
We need to stop judging each other on our own particular ideas and standards of ambition. What works for me does not work for everyone else. What works for you does not work for everyone else. What may seem like a great job to you, appears to be a soul crushing torture experience to me. What appears to have no advancement opportunities and unambitious to you, appears like the perfect job to me.
Ambition has a lot to do with creative living. I am very ambitious. Just not in the standard way. And I am sure that the certain young lady who works in a bakery is ambitious as well. Quite possibly her ambitions may be in an area different than that of having a job in a particular career field in which she acquired a college degree.
The next time you are at the bakery, nibbling on a lemon sugar cookie, ask yourself, are you ambitious?