TThe biggest lag I’ve ever felt was saying goodbye to the proposal – the long pitch – for my second book in an airport while crying so hard my mask was wet. I had booked a one-way ticket home at the last minute when I realized I wasn’t sure where else to go – as all my holdalls were left at baggage claim and the future I had in mind , was over earlier when I could even move out of the apartment I shared with someone who didn’t want it anymore.
It should have felt like triumph to hit send on the proposal that I had been fiddling with in some form for almost a year. But that kind of ambition – to get in advance, Knowing what you want and going after it – felt like the opposite of what was happening now as I took a packet of Reisekleenex from a friendly stranger. I met the deadline because I couldn’t let this fail too.
At the time, sending that email seemed like a last-ditch effort to stay “on track,” whatever that means, when “what’s next” had lost all meaning. But even when I sent it, I felt neither relief nor pride. It happened in the haze, a kind of sinister autopilot was involved something meant I had something to hold on to. In the days that followed, I felt myself reverting to my old self, which always felt like I was behind in school, in my career, in life milestones, and in comparison to who I was sought be.
Continue reading: ambition is out. Why so many people choose Balance
Keeping the stride where I wanted to be has always felt like a race, a deep personal desire mixed with a feeling that no matter how early I started, no matter how hard I sprinted, I was running out of time. It wasn’t until I delved deeper into the relationship between ambition and time that I discovered that being behind is a myth – one that has defined my life and convinced me that I was feeling like I was , could escape if I tried just a little harder failed at everything I encountered.
“Get your work done early!” was a mantra I heard from teachers, dance coaches, and random adults growing up offering a fleeting word of wisdom – saying that rewards will be reaped in the end if you do it on beginning works hard. It didn’t take long into young adulthood to realize – literally – that the time spent on a task or carefully laid plans didn’t always lead to relief or Reward. But that didn’t stop me from trying in both tiny and formative ways. When I was younger and my passion was dancing, I realized around the age of 10 that I would never be the one to do the most pirouettes or be the best objectively, but I could be the one to show up early and late stayed. Later, after dropping out of college and getting back to the internet, I was determined to complete the full coursework while also holding a full-time job to support financial support and pay the rent, but also in part to ensure that I have “caught up”.
I had written books but was not a full-time writer; I had recovered after my personal life and health had imploded. But now that I was standing, I didn’t know how to move forward. In fact, I secretly thought I should have been on the right track by now, even when the course just wasn’t there anymore. “One foot in front of the other,” I said to myself. “Just keep going” – into the future I longed for, the fulfillment of the plans I had made, the imagined certainty of thinking I could quit. But that path ended in a dead end, and I felt my life rushing past me.
Of course, there would be a sense of feeling behind, not without templates for what is considered “ahead”. All around us are ideas about the “right” schedule for which we can do anything: graduate college (always and in four consecutive years), find our calling (which is better than what we major in have), to get married, … Start saving for retirement (always five years earlier than you actually started) to have children (and the number of years between children) – an ever-growing list, the professional and private areas.
Then there are complex assumptions: the earlier you choose your path, the more you must have wanted it. That if you really wanted something (a job, relationship, or house) that you would have prioritized before.
I wasn’t the only one who felt that time and ambition were linked. “The need to maximize time was sort of the original goal,” Dawna I. Ballard, associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin, told me. It lies at the intersection of industrial capitalism, where time is money, and the Protestant work ethic, where time is precious, she explained. The larger system in which we exist shapes both time and the way and when different parts of life unfold. When we “fall behind,” it’s portrayed as a moral failing, when in reality, Ballard continues, it’s personal experience that clashes with “cultural norms that value speed.”
And these so-called norms ignore so much experience with schedules and ambitions. journalist and educator Katie Walsh (who also checked the facts that would eventually become the book) wrote about the concept of “crip time”: The idea that disabled people experience time differently than able-bodied people, as does work, noting that ” that your worth cannot be.” is determined by the schedule you work by.” Queer time, used to describe “ideas outside of heterotemporality,” offers different ways of moving through time and life events than those that attributed to stereotypical “adult” milestones. (Indeed, achieving so-called characteristics of adulthood has always been somewhat tied to circumstances such as economic status. Fixation on specific timetables often ignores how many people move differently through time or are affected by systemic crises, and offers individual performance as a solution to structural deficiencies.)
The idea that we’re lagging behind unless we are always Running for the next best thing and our next best selves doesn’t simply bypass the millions of ways our time is organized and spent. It limits our ambition.
We discover new things, people and places that we love. We encounter new versions of ourselves, often with new needs or new goals. Without pausing and noticing when a title is gone and a new one appears, we lose. We miss opportunities to celebrate milestones or achievements that may not fit into a societal achievement script but are meaningful us. We miss sitting by ourselves when we’re breaking down, the urge to patch through grief or heartbreak, or feeling lost when we’re even more upset forward. We miss – I was missed –The, just now. The only moment we’re ever guaranteed.
Time is a guide that can help us coordinate or direct our behavior, Ballard said. “However, when we use it as a context-free yardstick to assess our worth or well-being, it pushes our lives — and the unexpected sorrow and growth, joy and loss that it means to be human — into depth “Margins,” she explained.
I’ve got the version of myself behind me when I sat at the airport and collapsed while submitting a book proposal for fear of missing my self-imposed deadline. Yet while reporting on ambition, I heard how everything from grief, to love and family, to adventure on your own, to a diagnosis and failure, transformed ambition and made it new.
Looking back, I see that in myself too. I didn’t win back the feeling of being behind – or my ambition – by pursuing a professional goal to make up for personal losses. Instead, I held the pain still; Feeling it, realizing that my desires for my future haven’t changed, but my way forward has.
Maybe sending that email from the airport back then was about staying on track. But now it’s hard to see it as anything other than allowing ambition to change the shape of my life. Choosing to step forward when the future is unclear and uncertain was a different kind of ambition. It’s not a race I’m running trying to catch up to where I believed I was. Now my goal is to go slowly – back to myself.
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