Not a Zero-Sum Game
While studying for finals, I always have this tendency to scroll through my Facebook feed when I came across an article from the Atlantic dated April 16, 2013.
The title? "Relationships Are More Important than Ambition."
Naturally, being my curious self and having heard on the first day of my management class, that being happy, an inevitable consequence of strong social relationships, outweighs personal gratification, I clicked the link and started reading.
I suppose the article's reposting was properly timed. After all, the people of the class of 2022 had just found out whether they had been admitted, deferred, or rejected from their top-choice schools. Not long ago, I was in their place, waiting anxiously to see whether I had been accepted into Wharton or not. I remember carefully rehearsing a speech in front of the mirror five minutes prior, a speech that I had so meticulously prepared during class.
And yet? Reading this article metaphorically knocked the breath out of me. Even the subtitle appeared menacing: "there's more to life than leaving home." It was as if leaving my hometown in search of a better future than the ones my parents had was an absolute betrayal!
As a young girl, my parents had constantly drilled into me that self-reliance was the most important thing; that when it came down to it there is a high likelihood that the only person I could truly depend on is myself. Today, I still carry those sentiments with me; perhaps, that is the reason why I clash with more community-oriented people who are more willing to settle for whatever outcome than I ever could.
Does that hint at my misery?
No. Yes, I will freely admit that I get stressed thinking about my future after college, what I plan to do, how I plan to do it. Yes, my mind is constantly cycling through alternative scenarios and mentally calculating the probabilities of each outcome happening. I just don't think you can fairly connect stress with misery; after all, the more community-oriented people have their own stresses to deal with, arguably on a smaller scale but there is still a good level of stress. They might be worried that they are not contributing the most to their community, that their relationships may be falling apart without them knowing. There is a difference between having stress (stress is normal) and stress that keeps you from doing day to day things.
As I continued to read the article, I learned how Dreher and Ruthie led different lives. In a way, Dreher can be a reflection of my father who worked his hardest to leave the rural, harsh farming lifestyle that was characteristic of a mountainous area in Liaoning, and Ruthie could be his siblings who stayed behind to manage the farm. Interestingly enough, my father's siblings never directed resentment towards him, rather they are very proud that he is able to make a life for himself here in the United States. And my father? He is always talking to his brothers and sisters and they share stories and the occasional laughter. Reading this article had essentially created a dilemma that I didn't even think should exist in the first place.
The article ultimately comes to the conclusion that one outweighs the other. The author cites studies demonstrating that people who are ambitious tend to suffer, and the ones who are married, are on good terms with their neighbors, etc. feel much better. Perhaps, it is best if we just stay in the small towns we are raised in; after all, the community needs us.
This conclusion reminds me of the chastising comments I got from my guy friends back home.
"You might have all these hobbies, but certainly what will make you happiest is a guy you can truly cherish."
"Well, I am not surprised you go to Wharton. After all, you are so cutthroat and you are willing to get ahead; I would think the last thing you would care about is having good relationships with people."
These comments are just truly mind boggling. On one hand, I get that ambition can sometimes be problematic. Unchecked ambition can lead to putting people down to get yourself ahead. But really? Is bashing ambition just a trend now? To cast ambition in a truly horrible light is to forget that ambition can get people places. Ambitious people aren't necessarily heartless; we are just so goal-focused sometimes that we lose sight of the bigger picture.
I can guarantee you I am not losing sleep over this manufactured debate. I do actually think ambition and relationships go hand in hand; they don't exist separately. To start up a business, you need people. People who are willing to support you as a person, who will be there when ideas go bust...that's when you need people! Even in the blogging world, I might not physically be interacting with all my followers 24/7, but I am mindful of the people I come across on Instagram. I always try to be genuine in my comments, and if I am in the same location as them, say Philadelphia or Tampa, I will always go out of my way to meet them for coffee, to take fun lifestyle photos together but at the end of the day I am trying to figure out who they are as a person. Are they fun to be around? What interesting stories do they have to tell me?
One other thing I just can't wrap my head around is how the article goes out of its way to say ambitious people see people as objects, as a means to an end. Call me callous if you want, but don't we all have a purpose for knowing people? Even in the scheme of a community, you need people to support your idea for that local church event you might have been planning over the last couple of weeks. Objectifying people is just a phrase deigned to make ambitious people appear to be mercenaries. Think about it for a moment. When you meet someone, you either click or you don't. I am definitively sure you aren't going to keep talking to someone that shares little to no common ground or to hang out with someone who has a completely different personality from you. Instead of saying we objectify people, meeting people and staying friends with them is about identifying what you have in common and playing off of each other's strengths and interests.
And on that note, a word on communities. Communities aren't meant to be stagnant, giving you little room to maneuver. When you move from place to place, you can take bits and pieces from your hometown with you. I know at least I have; being around a friend group that I met when I moved to Florida in middle school has given me a much-needed sense of humor and funny stories to tell the people I meet at school. Just because you leave one community behind doesn't mean you can never find another. There will always be a part of home with you, whether it is a part of your personality, in your mannerisms, in how you relate to others. Communities can be molded and shaped to your liking; you can even start your own! We also live in the 21st century so they can be both online and offline, across different cities even!
Point is, never be afraid to be individualistic, to go out there and travel and pursue your own passions however you can. It gets you places. Staying in the same place for the rest of your life doesn't. Forge communities wherever you go and leave the people who won't stand by your side behind.
Never a zero-sum game.
Charm in the Mundane xx