On Ambition & Being What You Do

How to stay ambitious in your work

This guest post comes to us from the smart/talented/driven Liz of Being Geeky Chic fame. She writes about sci-fi, apps, design, style, and a million other things. Pop over and say hi!

My brother, my boyfriend, and I are always having pseudo-intellectual, semi-existential conversations about life, but last night’s conversation hit home in an intense way. We were discussing a big new project I’m working towards (announcement coming soon!) and as such, I was discussing how daunting it is to take on something so consuming… And my brother said:“It’s one thing to be ambitious, but you can’t let your ambition own you.” I’m going to confess something here and now. My ambition owns me.I’ve never totally understood what makes me act the way I do. I can’t completely explain it, but I can tell you a story.

When I was editing SKOL last year, I would come home from my full-time job at 5 PM, hole up in my office and edit until 2 AM. I wouldn’t leave to eat. I wouldn’t leave to take a phone call. I wouldn’t leave to get a glass of water. I wouldn’t leave to wash my hair. The boyf would lovingly come up each night and bring me some food and drink so I didn’t die. I did this for 10 weeks.

See, when I get into a project… I REALLY get into a project. I become the project. The project becomes the very air in my lungs and blood in my veins.

As a result, I place all of my self worth in the things I create.

So many people have said to me, “your job is not who you are.” Except, it’s not about a job, is it? See, in my world, my job is just a venue in which I DO things. I CREATE things. I am what I do.

I can’t get through a day without thinking about how many hours I will have left each night to spend on this blog, my next project, some shooting. Almost daily I find myself upset when things simply “take too long.” And these are things that others would never bother considering:

Taking a shower. Watching a TV show. Eating a meal. Driving to the store. Grocery shopping. Laundry. Working out.

This week alone, I have found myself thinking: “this is taking too long” while doing each of these activities. It wouldn’t matter… except I had this blog post to write.

I’m not divulging this because I think it’s a problem or because I’m worried about it. I’ve been living this way since I was 14 years old and besides a couple sleepless nights, I’ve managed to find some decent checks and balances in my day to day life.

I’m living in ambition prison. I hope I learn something along the way.

Do you consider yourself to be ambitious?  How much do you associate your self-worth and identity with what you do?

photo by mcdobbie hu // cc

8 Comments

Chris Adams

I am the least ambitious and/or competitive person I know. I want to do things but I don't care about recognition or advancement.

For instance, I don't even like talking about my Honours thesis work at university beyond the very superficial level – and honestly my ultimate goal within academia would be something like teaching at a smallish liberal arts college or whatever, where I can share what I know without the pressure that people face in a research university.

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Amber Goodenough

Liz, you sound just like my husband. He is an ambitious, office-dwelling work-a-holic. He spends days holed up in his office working until his fingers bleed.

But the problem for me is that my "love language" for lack of a better word, is quality time. I feel loved when he spends time with me. Soooo we have had to work on him creating boundaries with his work. He has to make time for "real" life, tell clients that he has office hours and make sure that he sticks to them. Right now he's working on taking the weekends off. Usually he just works right through and doesn't even notice, but he's started to burn out. So I try to make sure that he at least has 1 whole day off every week.

it's not much but its a start. Good luck!

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FMD

The art of being a writer: figuring out how not to just stare out the window all day long. Coming from a private school, Ivy league (ahem ahem) background, I never thought I'd consider myself an artist. For me, being a writer means embracing the fact that what I do not only is who I am, but has worth.One of my biggest blocks is sitting down to a blank page, and telling myself that spending the time developing characters and stories, etc. is ACTUALLY WORTH THE EFFORT. It's OK to create for creation's sake. My name is Julia, and I am a writer. Huzzah!!

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Taylor Roades

I totally relate. I and sometimes I wonder if it is healthy ha. I'm a photographer and I love love love my job but like when I get a negative comment I think about it for weeks and weeks. Maybe I use it as a little motivation to get better but I seriously stew over it for way too long.

I feel like this entire summer so far I've thrown myself into work to an extreme I get invited to BBQs and I'm no working but honestly I heard a quote once that says you know you are doing the right thing when work is more fun than fun. I relate.

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Alien Mind Girl

I am highly ambitious, but not so much in the "must be president of the United States" way, more as in, "I'm a human doing, not a human being! I'm worth something!" way, if that makes any sense. I want to do everything, and do it as well as humanly possible (which leads me to obsess over it), and I have had a difficult time doing projects on a reasonable scale – they balloon in my head to some huge take-over-the-world type of creative idea. I was this way, happily, for years. My husband, sweetie that he is, was ok with the occassional "Dear, you are important to me so let me know if you feel like you need more quality time than I am giving you and I will schedule you in."

Eventually I realized that my ambitions at being awesome at everything were making me mediocre at everything. Most importantly, mediocre at being a friend, a daughter, a wife, etc. You know. Those things that are a little bit important. So here is what I did. It was hard *for me* but people rolled their eyes when I told them I was "working on doing nothing."

I quit.

I quit everything but my job. I quit my oh so important hobbies and ambitions. I quit my side jobs. And these things were what I had at first thought were my life. But I quit them, knowing that I did not know how to do them in moderation.

For more than a year, I did nothing but try to be the very best employee, friend, wife, daughter, and sister I could be. I tried to be the very best home owner and dog owner I could be. I learned to cook with lots of veggies. I trained my dogs. I was there when my nephew was born. I wrote letters to my grandma. I did everything that I knew was The. Most. Important. Things. That I had been half-trying at (even though I had not noticed that I was half trying). I guess you could say that I turned my obsessive ambition outward, but I did it with the goals of cleansing and confirming my priorities and gaining control over my goals and ambitions.

Now I have new hobbies and outside activities again (amusingly my hubby is relieved), but I am able to approach them carefully. I am able to not mandate myself to them, and to keep my priorities straight. I am the boss of me, and I have control of how important these things are and how much time I spend on each. But I really had to take a long time to scrub my brain out, and I still monitor myself to make sure I don't go off the crazy deep end. (It is oh so tempting).

This is how I did it.

If you really want to do it, you can do it to!! Or find your own way. But you can.

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Liz

So many thoughtful things from so many of you and it's good to hear I'm not alone!

Amber, it's a gift that you give your partner this time together. I've tried hard in the last month to sit with my boyfriend every single night and spend an hour eating dinner and just talking. Some days I'm good and it lasts into the evening. It's so important!

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cronicasdobrasil

"I CREATE things. I am what I do." Oh, I so hear that. For a long time I created many wonderful things, only to get annoyed when people then only interacted with me about that thing that I had created. Sure, I'm much more than that but I had defined myself to them way, I had let myself get so very enveloped, so I had to admit it was my fault in the end. I burned out more than once, each time getting a little better at balance. I have no answers. This time around I'm trying to work on focusing first on what is ME, then let the creating flow from there.

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