My Dark Ambition: Notes on Writing and Career Desires
Whatever you vividly imagine, ardently desire...
When I was in college, my friends Doug and Molly came up with a nickname for me: Blonde Ambition. It was a fitting one: I was blonde and I was ambitious, and, hey, I was also a Madonna fan (or had been, as a kid). I didn’t hide—or feel ashamed of— my desire for success. I wanted to get A’s on my English papers, and win all the creative writing awards (I believe Doug did that, one year), and I wanted to be an author someday. I’m struck now, not by how driven I was back then, but by how convinced I was of my future. It sounds cheesy but my career as a writer felt fated. And even through years of rejection, I still felt like it would happen. There was never a question that I’d be a writer. It was meant to be.
In retrospect, this seems pretty delusional. Then again, how does anyone do anything hard without fooling themselves a little first? Maybe fooling yourself is step one.
There’s also this mantra that my dad stuck to our fridge when I was growing up. Whenever I was at his house (shared custody), I read it at least twice a day, for years:
Whatever you vividly imagine,
And enthusiastically act upon…
Will inevitably come to pass!
(It wasn’t until later that I looked up this quote and saw it was by Paul J. Meyer, a power of positive thinking dude.)
Now I wonder: Was I…brainwashed? How could I not become Blonde Ambition with this messaging.
Also: should I post this on my fridge for my own kids?
More than twenty years later, the moniker Blonde Ambition makes me chuckle. I hadn’t thought about it in a long time, not until I was a guest on my favorite podcast and the hosts asked me about my relationship to ambition as I age.
What I told them, basically, was that I’m still very ambitious but that, as I get older, I see the strings and the seams of it more clearly. I’m more cynical; I realize it’s more of a game, that who you know is often more important than what you did. Later, when they asked me their trademark closing question, “What is it you still want to do?” I felt myself floundering (even as I knew I’d get asked this!) I felt sheepish. I said that I wanted to keep writing books that are “formally daring and fun to read.” And then I talked about this newsletter—I admitted I wanted its readership to grow as I continue to write about life as authentically as possible. And that’s it.
It wasn’t a lie. But was I maybe hedging a little? Do I actually want more? Am I as ambitious as I was at age 20?
Or, maybe that’s not the question. Maybe it’s: Do I feel the same way about my ambition as I once did?
Lately, I’ve been wondering, When is one’s ambition a burden? When does ambition seem pathetic?
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