By Caitlin Kelly
The world is such a noisy place. Loud, haranguing voices lecturing me to hustle, to improve, build, strive, yearn, acquire, compete, and grasp for more. For bigger and better. Sacrifice sleep for productivity. Strive for excellence. Go big or go home. Have a huge impact in the world. Make your life count.
But what if I just don’t have it in me. What if all the striving for excellence leaves me sad, worn out, depleted? Drained of joy. Am I simply not enough?
What if I never really amount to anything when I grow up—beyond mom and sister and wife? But these people in my primary circle of impact know they are loved and I would choose them again, given the choice. Can this be enough?
What if I never build an orphanage in Africa but send bags of groceries to people here and there and support a couple of kids through sponsorship? What if I just offer the small gifts I have to the world and let that be enough?
It was a friend of mine, someone I met in freshman English class at University of Toronto decades ago, who posted it on her Facebook page.
She is often wearied by the insane pace others have set for themselves and keep setting.
It can feel like a race.
This always felt like our theme song, from Michelle Shocked:
Leroy got a better job so we moved
Kevin lost a tooth now he’s started school
I got a brand new eight month old baby girl
I sound like a housewife
Hey Shell, I think I’m a housewife
Hey Girl, what’s it like to be in New York?
New York City – imagine that!
Tell me, what’s it like to be a skateboard punk rocker?
I wasn’t exactly a skateboard punk rocker, but I did leave Canada — dear friends, family, thriving career — for New York.
When two paths diverge sharply, one to crazy, restless ambition (mine), one to settled domesticity (hers), raising three daughters, and a steady job in a smaller city, it often breaks a friendship.
One life looks too sharp-elbowed, the other ordinary and mundane (M’s word choice — I showed her this post beforehand.)
Social media can make these comparisons somewhat excruciating, with all the dark/messy bits of either choice edited out.
Life is more complicated than that.
I chose to leave Canada for New York when I was 30.
When people ask why, I answer with one truthful word: ambition.
It hasn’t all turned out as I hoped. The man I moved to be with, my first husband, proved unfaithful and soon walked out on our marriage.
Three recessions severely slowed my career progress.
Jobs came and went.
Friendships I hope would last for decades imploded.
But I’ll never forget the heart-bursting joy when I exited the Sixth Avenue headquarters of Simon & Shuster clutching the galleys of my first book.
Or how cool it was to compete for four years in nationals in saber fencing.
I now have a happy second marriage and a home in a town I love.
I have an agent, and work, and ideas and friends.
No kids. No grand-kids. No family homestead.
Do I regret my ambition, and its costs? No.
Choosing a quieter life limned by one’s own family, town or community is a choice.
Choosing a life of ambition-fueled drive, another.
Each brings its own satisfactions and joys.