Monday, October 23, 2006

Monday Morning Musing

Let's say that you're a diligent worker. You possess a self-motivated drive to always do your best, and it reflects in your work. Bosses and coworkers alike praise you for your intelligence, your work ethic and your attention to detail. You might even get a pay raise or some other prize.

What often happens afterward? As Andrew McCarthy put it so eloquently in Weekend at Bernie's, "My father worked hard. All they did was give him was more work!" A cynical view, sure, but certainly one to mull over. After all, success and stress often go hand in hand.

It's one thing to be bestowed more responsibilities consistent with your competence and work ethic; indeed, it can be quite an honor. But at what point does being indispensable become a burden? When does being the go-to expert become the go-AWAY expert? At what point are you tempted to reach for a sledgehammer and say, "Bye bye, brains?"

Few things are as satisfying in life as being appreciated. And few things are as annoying, once the expectations have been set high enough.

I like to impress people. I do my best work when I know the reaction will be, "Wow! Who is this guy?" In school, I always did better in more laid-back classes than I did in the ones with high expectations. To me, it's more satisfying to genuinely impress someone than to simply clear the bar with someone whose reaction will be, "Yes. I expect perfection." After a while, I simply coasted in the latter type of courses while my classmates burned themselves out trying to get that prim nod. Some of them got it, some of them didn't. I didn't envy either side. Still don't.

This mentality has led me to some weird career goals. Would I love to be a famous writer-slash-TV star? Of course. But how likely am I to try to suck up to the Devil Wears Prada-type hierarchy evident in both worlds? Not very. My proudest triumphs in life come from being found, not by actively seeking out opportunities (though I also do plenty of that). That's probably a bad way to go through life, but it's worked so far. Serendipity, baby.

Does that make me sound like I have no ambition? A lot of people have told me as much. But a better way to put it would be that I have a different sort of ambition, one that that does not involve the corporate ladder or being an indispensable link in a chain of command. It does not mean being the envy of the neighborhood or trying to please those who won't deign to be pleased. Most people probably can't understand that, because those qualities have become the essence of the American Dream.

But I realized long ago that I'd rather write on the side and have a regular low-stress job, than to give up my dreams and go the conventional 9-to-5, corporate-ladder route. I've seen too many frazzled faces for that to be a compelling option. Ambition is great, but in most cases people are living other peoples' ideas of what that means. Find your own, and someday you may be the one fighting off more work!

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go to bed on this glorious Monday morning.

1 comment:

GumboFilé said...

It sounds to me like you're doing what you really want to do. I don't think anyone has ever regretted such.