Cutting Ambition Down to Size

GinsuMy Facebook status update for today is: “Melia wants just one moment without ambition.” What would it feel like, I wonder, to be completely content with something that’s merely good, rather than great? I honestly can’t imagine. When faced with any task, I feel compelled to do it as well as it can humanly be done, and I’m constantly surprised when it ends up making me unhappy. Here are just a few pieces of evidence.

Exhibit A: Girls’ Dinners. My girlfriends and I have regular dinners where we take turns cooking for each other. When it’s my turn, a simple idea like “Spanish food” grows into a culinary tour through the regions of my beloved España. The meal might begin with a three-cheese plate served with a baguette and red wine from the Penedès region, followed by a tortilla española and sautéed spinach with toasted pine nuts and plump raisins, culminating in a dessert of flan drizzled with caramel sauce. As you’d expect, I always run out of time and end up ignoring my friends while rushing to prepare this type of gourmet meal on my own. I use every dish in the house and most likely end up flipping the tortilla onto the floor, blackening the pine nuts, and realizing too late that the flan needs to be chilled for an hour before serving. Then I proceed to pout throughout the meal while my friends assure me that it’s delicious. ¡Que aproveche! Bon appetit!

Exhibit B: Evites and Facebook party invites.
During my years of running youth programs, writing Evite and Facebook invites has been one of my few creative outlets. My invitations can’t just provide the basic details and say, “Hope you can make it!” They have to be the wittiest damn pieces of comic prose that have ever been sent over the Interweb. If no one tells me, “That was the most awesome Evite I’ve ever gotten,” I kick myself for not being the Jon Stewart of Evite-writing. The irony is, by the time I’m done creating this masterful life’s work, it’s often so long that I doubt anyone reads it. (Reference the invite for 90s Party: The Sequel—Renee was likely the only one who got to the end, since she loves the 90s just that much.)

Exhibit C: Blog posts. I’m sure that you’ve noticed the long lags between my blog posts. It’s not for lack of ideas—I have at least 30 posts that exist only in my mind. (My imaginary readers, who all have Ph.D.s in literature, say that these posts are brilliant.) I don’t write more often because I usually don’t have time to make my posts to original and well written and funny and thought provoking all at once. Even more, one simple idea tends to balloon into a profound treatise on the human experience. A short entry on ordering a new laptop becomes a commentary on how technology often complicates our lives and prevents us from forming true connections. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I have a “B.S.” in Psychology.

The clearest example of ambition gone awry is Reschool Yourself, this very project. My original idea was to take a year to rediscover the joy I had as a child, to take life less seriously, and to learn and do the things I’ve always wanted to. It’s really simple, if I can let it be that way. It doesn’t have to lead to a book, or a documentary, or a series of workshops to help other adults to find happiness. The project can result in any or all of these things, but only if and when I want it to.

In response to today’s Facebook status update about my ambition to have less ambition, my friend Keane wrote, “Ambition is like a knife without handles. You just have to find a way to use it without cutting yourself.” Maybe, if I can be content using a basic cooking knife instead of a Ginsu 2000 never-needs-sharpening deluxe, I won’t cut myself so often. Instead of wanting to do a task as well as it can be done, I’m going to try to do it as simply as possible, having as much fun as possible. My girls may end up eating microwaved pizza, my Evites might convey only (gasp!) the date, time, and location of a party I’m hosting, and my blog posts may not contain all the answers to questions you never even knew you had. I may also find that I’ll cook more dinners, throw more parties, and write more blog posts than if I insisted on perfection. Most importantly, if Reschool Yourself turns out to be just a year where I learn to be content with being just good, and not always great, I’d call that a year well spent.

Comments (3)

  1. Darren

    When I was designing ads for the JFP, I had to move really quickly through different projects, sometimes designing two or three new ads from scratch in a single day. I think there’s a separation between the ‘prep work’ and the ‘execution’ of creative ideas. I spend a lot of time looking at design work, seeing what’s out there, reading and watching stuff I like. When it comes time to do a project, I have a good foundation to crank something out really quickly that’s pretty good. All of your writing is so great, and it’s awesome that you have all the blog posts planned out. Instead of writing, revising, reworking all of your blog posts, trust in your innate talent and just crank some out! I’m sure they will be really good, because you’re a great writer.

  2. Gilliebean

    Bravo! It’s hard letting go of that Jessica Stein-like perfectionism, but once you let your brilliance take over, watch out…

  3. Colette

    Love it!! Thank you!!


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