Thursday, January 16, 2014


I teased a colleague yesterday that my greatest career ambition is the company of a cup of tea so I can be warm. That's not really my greatest career ambition, you know, but I work in a space that doesn't bear the privilege of food or drink, and I am always cold.

Then he gave me a clementine. It wasn't warming but the gesture was just as nourishing.

I've been thinking a lot about ambition lately. I could tell you that it's because of this work detail I'm on, where I'm exposed to all different parts of the agency compared to my usual view; or because it's the new year, and everyone is big on goal-setting. It's not really those things, though. And I've never found goal-setting to be terribly productive for me. I've always found my biggest goals approach me. I don't have to chase them. You know my affinity for connecting the dots only with hindsight. I just try to stay receptive for whatever goal might approach me next.

The real reason ambition has been on my mind is because of the littlest wild, sweet G. He'll be four next month (is that crazypants to you?) and he's of that age where he has, for the first time, a declared aspiration.

I was speaking with a different colleague earlier this week about her career. She's a brilliant woman. I was telling her I was one of those kids who never really knew what I wanted to be when I grew up; I just knew with certainty that I would do something interesting, and that was enough. It's probably where I first cultivated receptivity. The funniest things pop up when you're willing to catch them. She said she always wanted to be a writer, and then she wondered if she wanted to be a writer because she loved it, or if she wanted to be a writer because she was good at it, which attracted praise for it, which reinforced a desire to write. I've wondered that about labels assigned to me before. It's a hazard of intelligence, I told her with a smile.

Nurture vs. nature? G's first ambition -- he has two -- is to be a firefighter. He says all the time that he will be a firefighter and rescue people. Does he really want to be a firefighter innately? Or does he want to be a firefighter because I've been dressing him in his sister's hand-me-down firefighter shirts for years, so much so that he absorbed the identity? I don't know the answer, and as long as he's happy, it doesn't really matter (and we're well-wardrobed).

But it's his second ambition that really thrills me. G tells me that when he grows up he's going to be one of the Three Little Pigs, and never you mind that they're a fictional entity, nor that he's human, because he has plans. He's going to be the best one, of course, the smart one, he will tell you. He's not the nincompoop with the straw and he's not the moron with sticks. He's got bricks and he will be the hero, he will protect the other piggies, that big, bad wolf will never huff and puff him down, no way!, and you know what, read that literally or read that allegorically, I think it's a damn fine life ambition.

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