Looking Forward: Rethinking the Ladder

looking forward

Growing up, my vision of “going to work” was extremely narrow. I pictured myself click-clacking down office hallways in high-heeled shoes. I imagined sitting at a desk lined with silver picture frames, shuffling endless stacks of papers, a telephone receiver balanced on my shoulder. The job itself was never entirely clear but it was obvious that the woman I would become was successful, powerful, and very, very important. Cut to the present. Most days, you’ll find me perched at my dining table, typing away at my computer next to a window that overlooks my building’s disarrayed jungle of a backyard. There’s not a silver frame or leather briefcase in sight, and I don’t own a single business suit. My uniform of choice usually involves a vintage dress and bare feet---no click-clacking heels for me.

As a relative newcomer to the freelance world, I realize that while I’m extremely lucky, my career is far from what the average New Yorker would consider “successful,” “powerful,” or “important.” It’s challenging, exciting, liberating, unconventional---but lucrative? Glamorous? Cosmopolitan? Not quite.

“If you really pushed yourself,” a friend very kindly said to me recently, “you could go so far. I see you running your own business. You could be a total power player at the top of your field.”

Of course, this was a nice thing to hear. Surprising, but nice. There’s a reason I’ve chosen to sacrifice certain things, however---a steady paycheck, employer-provided healthcare, the comfort of a routine---in order to follow the path I’m on. It’s because in the past year, I’ve thought seriously about what I want to prioritize. For some people, that might be the pursuit of a high-powered career---and I think that ambition is wonderful. For myself, though---and it feels a little funny to admit this---having a successful career is just not that high on my list. I have goals, of course, and I hope to always be involved in creative projects throughout my life, but as far as being a “power player”? Putting in long hours at an office? Moving up the corporate ladder? It’s just not me.

I like to think that my life doesn’t have to conform to a traditional image of success to be successful. I'm willing to sacrifice a higher-paying job and a certain amount of security to pursue what's meaningful to me.

When I look back on my life in forty years, what do I think will make me happiest?

Having traveled.

Having had adventures.

Having loved.

Having been a good mother.

Having been a student of music, food, art, and culture around the world.

Having taken risks.

Having helped others. 

Sounds successful, powerful, and very, very important to me.