I work for a large, bureaucratic organization. People write almost exclusively in the passive voice (“It was decided at the meeting that…”), there are forms for everything, and committees to decide membership for other committees. Ostensibly, I work nine to five, although there have been many nights where I’ve fallen asleep clutching my Blackberry in bed. I often wear a suit.
This is where I tell you about how I hate my job, and long to start a bakery-slash-letterpress studio, or that I’m just putting in time until my blog takes off, or that I’m going back to school to become a pony trainer. But I can’t—because I love my job.
I love the people I work with, the (fascinating, complex, challenging, tangible) work that I do, and the strange and wonderful opportunities that my work presents to me. I love the bizarre situations I find myself in, when I have to whisper to myself, “This is my job!” Oh, and the best part? They send me to a different country every few years, and I’m a sucker for a good passport stamp.
My husband clearly loves me a lot. How can I tell? Countless things hint at it, but the glaring example is that he completely changed his career so that he could follow me around the world more easily. Now he works from home, wherever home happens to be, while I head to a not-very-exotic office in some pretty exotic locations. It’s difficult to even explain how grateful I am to him, how indebted I feel at his willingness to allow my career to dictate how—and where—we live our lives (although we do get a say in where).
I’ve never identified as ambitious. I’ve always loudly proclaimed that family is my number one priority, that I don’t care how far I advance in my career as long as we have fun and enjoy where we travel. My husband and I have derived countless hours of entertainment idly spinning a globe, pointing to our big map over the couch, saying, “How about here?” over breakfast. Lots of my colleagues are ambitious—people are always hustling to move up, to do something big. I’ve always said I didn’t want to play that game, just wanted to enjoy my work and see where it leads.
Six months into my first assignment, though, I had the opportunity to take on much more responsibility than I normally would. I was terrified of screwing up—and relished the challenge more than I ever thought possible. What’s more, I did a pretty good job of it—and my entire blasé façade of unambitious, only-in-it-for-the-perks girl had been revealed.
I had convinced myself that I didn’t care, until I experienced first-hand the thrill of a stretch assignment successfully pulled off. Now I’m facing up to the fact that, despite my protestations to the contrary, I am ambitious. Maybe I said I didn’t want to play the game, but this turned out to be disingenuous. I like the game. I like learning how to negotiate, how to develop my skills; I like the idea that I can parlay my current assignment into something more valuable the next time around—and then I come up short, because my entire notion of what’s valuable has turned upside down. Is it a fun place with great street food? Or is it a step up in my career? If those things align, awesome—but if not, what do I choose? What do we choose?
Ambition to climb the ladder in a big organization is met with scorn in a lot of circles these days. It goes strongly against the trend of proclaiming ourselves above the rat race—more tuned in with what really matters in life, like picnics and artisan pickles—but my career matters to me. I don’t want to be typecast as the harried career woman who’s glued to her Blackberry and neglects her family, but I also don’t want to turn away from something I find so satisfying.
So I’m stepping up and owning my ambition. It may not be the cool thing to do, but I don’t want to end up as the first person in history who, on her deathbed, says, “I wish I’d spent more time at the office.”