Last July, I burned my wedding dress and set an intention for my life. My friend who was overseeing the ceremony on the day that would have been my 15th wedding anniversary encouraged me to speak into the flames what I wanted. Was it love? Was it partnership? What did my future look like?
I ripped the white polyester and watched it melt in the flames. No. I thought. I didn’t want love. Not that kind anyway. I had my children and my friends and my family and my pets. Romantic love would be nice, but what I wanted was to write another book. What I wanted was my career to succeed.
I tossed the dress into the flames and set my intentions toward success. I had ambition. Raw unrelenting ambition and I didn’t want anything to get in my way.
In the middle of the pandemic, I was doing it all. My second book was coming out, I was working and freelancing. I’d been on CNN and even The Daily Show. I was saying “yes” to every opportunity and throwing myself relentlessly into all my work. I’d stay up late and wake up early and by the fall, I was exhausted.
In October I was fired after being the target of a harassment campaign. Then, months later, I broke my wrist. It had taken those two hits, but I was forced to stop working.
When my cast came off, I thought I would do it all. I’d build it all back. I’d be stronger and better and maybe even more ambitious. And I am, but that ambition looks a little different after a year of fear, exhaustion, overwork, online harassment, and burnout.
Now I don’t want to work so much. I want to spend time with my kids and take them to the pool and eat Choco Tacos and read books. I want to make S’Mores and sit on my friends’ porches and hold their babies. I want to cry over margaritas and deep talk at my favorite restaurant.
I do want success, yes. But after a year of the pandemic which has forced us to confront the maggoty rot of our society — the inequality and the casual cruelty — success now looks so much different than it did last year. I also work in an industry that is constantly collapsing. After frantically applying for jobs last fall, I gave up. I could, after all, make an okay living on my own and my therapist kept asking me, “What would life look like if you weren’t stressed out all the time? What would life look like if you could just rest?”
In June of 2020, Maris Kreitzmen, a friend and the host of The Maris Review, a literary podcast wrote about her own grapple with ambition, noting, “Where does ambition go when jobs disappear and the things you’ve been striving for barely even exist anymore? And what if the things for which you’ve been striving no longer feel important because they’re the spoils of a rotten system that needs a complete overhaul?”
I think a lot about her words this summer as I say “no” to projects and instead, I do my laundry. Instead, I watch The Sopranos or pop into a dive bar to read a book.
I can’t shake the feeling that what happened to me was like being benched in the fourth quarter of a game because you were playing too well. But as time has gone on, I’m glad it happened, because it slowed me down and I needed that.
I am still ambitious, I still want a lot from this world, and I still want to grab it. But as Maris wrote at the end of her essay, my ambition has shifted. Instead of personal success, I want my work to create an impact. I want to agitate for justice and enjoy peace. I want to be happy in my little house, with my children and my friends, and the little life I’ve created.