I never really wanted to be great. I had no big career aspirations growing up. When I was a little girl if you'd asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up I would have told you I wanted to be a wife and a stepmother. All I ever wanted for my life was to have a little corner of the world filled with people I loved who loved me and the only job I wanted was to make sure they were happy. That was my only goal in life. A worthy goal, an honourable goal, but it wasn't exactly aspiring to greatness. Which is not to say that having a family to love and protect isn't greatness, by the way.
When I left home in my early twenties that dream was still intact. I was in love with the person I thought I’d marry and I looked at my first job as something to do to keep body and soul together until he was ready to come home. It was a job, not a career and I didn’t go into it wanting anything more than a paycheque.
But then – as I wrote about last week – I got bit by the ambition bug. I didn’t know what it was at first. At first I thought I was just curious, just interested in learning and trying everything. At first I would just look at what other people were doing and think “I want to do that too” because it seemed cool or fun or exciting. But, being the kind of person who can learn and master a task without a lot of thought or effort, soon after being given an opportunity I would become bored by it and begin to strive for something else.
In time I realized that what I really wanted was to grow. To be pushed. I didn’t want to be in situations where I could put in minimal effort and produce good results. I wanted to be challenged to the point where I had to work my hardest and produced amazing results. It took years and years before I could admit it, but I wasn’t just a drifter floating from one interesting thing to the next, I was hugely ambitious and searching for situations that would let me be great.
There’s nothing particularly wrong or particularly uncommon about being ambitious, I know. Most people in my approximate age group would probably say that they too are ambitious. These days, if you ask just about anyone you know about their goals in life, their answer will likely include one of the following:
1. Run their own business so they don’t have to answer to anyone
2. Make (whatever they consider to be) huge amounts of money so they don’t have to work anymore
3. Turn their vocation or side hustle into a paying gig so they can quit their day job
For me though, my ambition works in a different way. That’s nothing new though right? I have no desire to run my own business. I’ve been self-employed and for me it ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. I don’t care at all about making huge amounts of money and I truly don’t think I’d enjoy not having to work anymore. And if you subscribe to the theory that writing is my side hustle, I’d never want it to become a paying thing. I think making a living off my writing would take most of the fun out of it.
My sole ambition in life is to be great at what I whatever it is I do. To be a fucking brilliant media strategist that constructs campaigns that other people cite in interviews as something they wish they’d worked on. To question what others accept as foregone conclusions and turn the status quo on its ass. I don’t want to be the president of an agency and flit from meeting to meeting all day long without getting my hands dirty, thanking others for their hard work while I breeze out at 5pm every day. I want to be the person who, somewhere around my 16th hour of work one day, comes with up with an idea that I know is going to lead me to a Media Innovation Award.
And when it comes to writing, I have no desire to be a best-selling author. I don’t want to be the next Markus Frind and set the world aflutter with how much money I can make off AdSense. I don’t need tens of thousands of page views or hundreds of comments and a backend more complicated than a Google algorithm to house it all. My only goal with my writing is for it to be fucking great. Not every day, because you know this isn’t my job and sometimes you just have to slap shit up there and keep it moving. But most days. When I get up in the morning and read the day’s post, I want to say to myself “that was a fucking great post”.
If I had to face the choice between being one of those super-rich writers who writes the same book over and over and just changes the character’s names
(Eric Jerome Dickey I’m looking at you) and being a dope but unknown writer, I’d choose obscurity. If I had to choose between being a media executive who takes home an obese paycheque but has completely lost touch with what’s going on in the industry and being an over-worked, under-paid stressed the fuck out strategist who is first to the table every time a new product hits the market, I’d chose the chest pains and the unpaid bills without question. I’d rather be broke and great than rich and shitty any day of the week.
As many of you probably know by now, I recently accepted a new job. When I first began the extremely long and arduous interview process I was iffy about it. I wasn’t sure it was the move for me. What eventually sold me on it was the interview I had with the woman who will be my boss. Before I met her I was told that she was a fucking genius. And about 5 minutes after I began speaking with her I knew it was true. My conversation with her could best be described as media porn and when I walked out of the meeting 90 minutes later I knew I had to work with her because if there was greatness in me, she would bring it out.
The problem with aspiring to greatness is that it requires the belief that you have the potential to be great. Or the belief that you are already great. And that I think is where most of us fall down. Or at least that’s where things go left for me. As I move around and up the corporate ladder in the 3D world, I’m always looking for a place that is conducive to me being great. But when I get there I always wonder whether I have it in me to do it.
Now as I’m teetering on the brink of my new job, I alternate between being excited about it and scared shitless by it. For the first time in a long time I’ll be in a place that is absolutely conducive to bringing out my brilliance, which is a good thing. But if no brilliance comes out, there won’t be anything external to blame it on. Which would be a scary thing, if I weren’t an egomaniac and didn’t already consider myself a fucking brilliant strategist. But since I am and I do I’m just anxious to show the world how fucking great I am.
What about you guys? Do you aspire to greatness? Do you ever wonder whether you have it in you? Speak on it in the comments.