Small Life, Slow Life: 22/100 {Ambition. Fear.}


I’m currently reading book 26 of my “Read 30 books in 2018 even though I have a kid challenge” (lol) and it’s The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker. First of all, I’m not even halfway through, and I can already tell that this is one of those beautiful books that is going to stay with me for a long time, and one that I will probably re-read for years and years.

Anyway, there was a quote in it that really got me thinking. A character says:

“We see that there is no place we can hide from fear, yet still we attempt to find one. We strive for wealth and power. We abandon ourselves to the illusion that we are stronger than fear. We try to rule–over our children and our wives, over our neighbors and our friends. Ambition and fear have something in common: neither knows any limits. But with power and wealth it is just as with the opium I sampled more than once in my youth–neither keeps its promises. Opium never brought me eternal happiness. It only demanded more and more of me. Money and power do not vanquish fear. There is only one force more powerful than fear.”

I felt it like a punch right to the sternum. It is, of course, true.

Fear, I am intimately familiar with. My boss, James, says, “What if…” and he finishes that sentence with all of the wonderful things that could happen. What if it goes so well? What if we learn something we weren’t expecting? What if we changed this little detail about it and made it so much better?

Whereas when I ask “What if…” — it’s usually in my own mind, and there is usually some catastrophic idea that follows. What if I do the wrong thing? What if we have another baby and it’s the worst decision we ever make? What if we’re never financially where we want to be? What if it all goes to shit?

But, I’m used to those thoughts rattling around in my mind; they don’t really get to me. I have too many examples in my life of everything turning out wonderfully. Or, even when it hasn’t, ending up completely grateful for the lessons I’ve learned.

Ambition, though. That is a trickier subject.

Even though I am not the kind of person who cares about designer bags, or jewelry, or really nice cars…that doesn’t stop me from wanting more stuff. It doesn’t stop me from wanting more in my career. It doesn’t stop me from thinking about the next place we’ll live…hoping it’ll be bigger. And despite making the most money I’ve ever made, there’s always a feeling of not enough, even though that’s not true.

I do the same thing at work. I want to climb and climb and climb the ladder. Sometimes I sit back and think, What am I trying to climb to? What is it that I’m wanting?

And the answer that just comes back is: More.

Always more. More control, more money, more say, more responsibility.

For the last year or so, I’ve been listening to that desire for more and checking it. Because I currently have the best boss I have ever had. (James, whom I mentioned above.) He has become one of my most precious friends; I honestly can’t imagine where I would be in my life without him. V will be the flower girl in his wedding next year. We talk every single day. Sometimes about work, sometimes about Sailor Moon, sometimes about Disneyland. It doesn’t really matter; we just enjoy each other’s company.

If I keep chasing the feeling of “more” that I blindly do, it’ll mean losing James. Sure, we’ll still be friends. But it means losing the constancy of him in my life, seeing him several times a week, being on a team with him, working towards a common goal together with him. Having his support.

If climbing the ladder means losing a person I’m really close to, then I don’t want to climb the ladder until I have to. And I know myself; I am only human after all. I will continue have the urge for more. It is automatic. But every time I do, I will tell myself: Wait. Wait, and look around at where you are in this moment. Is this so bad? Will you miss this when it’s gone? Yes? In that case, why don’t you enjoy it?

If I incessantly chase more, it means less of something else. Less time with my daughter. Less flexibility with time off and travel. Less autonomy. Less James.

And the truth is that after the shiny new promotion wears off, after I get comfortable in the role and with the new paycheck, that ambition for more is just going to creep right back in. It has every single other time. Why would this time be the exception?

Ambition keeps us growing. But if we don’t examine it, it can also keep us from being grateful. I’m sure the peak up there is awesome, but where I currently am on the side of this mountain is also completely beautiful.

And I don’t want to miss it.

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