Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Ambitions. Or not. 

Update: I must have been having a bit of bad hair day when I wrote the stuff below yesterday. I nearly pulled it again in the evening, but decided to let it stand, as a reminder to myself of where not to go. Well, that’s not quite what I mean – the comments have proved that it is worth going there, because to do so helps me to understand and clarify what I mean. Thoughts which remain unexpressed are also unvalidated; the mirror of conversation reveals much, of which I would otherwise remain oblivious. Thanks for the feedback - I’ll post replies to the comments later on.

I suppose that what I’ve been coming to terms with over the last year or two are the inevitable consequences of not being ambitious. That characteristic may sound almost virtuous, yet when you rearrange the words you might as well say that I have no ambitions – and that comes out sounding decidedly uncomplimentary.

It’s slowly been dawning on me that whereas most people of my age and qualifications would have reached a position of some considerable responsibility and autonomy, finding themselves perhaps consulted as experts in their field, or in a place to define strategy, or with control over significant budgets, I’ve become in effect just another office worker, turning up at 9, leaving again at 5, and in between doing the tasks which fall to me by virtue of the seat I occupy in the hierarchy.

You see, I never wanted any of those things – in fact I despised many of them. Status, power, money – none of them ever appealed for their own sakes, and so I never attained any of them. And so by studious avoidance of ladder-climbing, I now find myself in an organisation peopled largely by ambitious youngsters, whose frighteningly clear and confident (and simplistic and blinkered) answers to every question have propelled them to positions far more senior than mine. And in spite of everything I might once have claimed, I find, to my surprise and chagrin, that it matters.

It matters that I see all around all me manner of inefficiency, poor decision making and re-invented wheels that are the inevitable consequences of inexperience – yet my own relatively lowly status coupled with poor communication skills (I don’t speak like I write…) and lack of leadership ability, means that I continue to live with the frustration of seeing these failings, added to which is the frustration of my own inability to do anything about it.

It matters that I see many people my age thinking of retiring in a couple of years time – or indeed already retired - able to devote their time and energy to whatever takes their fancy, be it selfish pleasure or turning their talents to doing some good in the world without having to worry about the scale of recompense. I know I’ve got another dozen years labour left. Yes, I admit it; I’m jealous.

Or maybe of course I’ve misunderstood what’s been turning the wheels of fortune, and the reality is that I’m where I am because that’s what I’m good for. Sure, he’s intelligent, admittedly he’s willing and friendly, but for heavens sake don’t ask him to lead anything or manage anyone – he’s just incapable of taking control and being directive.

I guess what’s galling is that it feels as though the values I’ve chosen – which appeared at the time to be worthy, even noble, values – appear to have let me down. And moreover in choosing them I’ve inadvertently let the wider world down as well. Without those trappings of career success, without a bit of self-promotion, you don’t have influence, and without influence it’s hard to make a difference. I feel as though I’ve sold myself into slavery, and now there’s no escape until I've served my term.

It’s not a pleasant feeling but it’s been dominating my thoughts lately which is one reason why I’ve been so quiet here. I wondered whether I might be able to move on by at least getting it out in the open; perhaps I’ll be sufficiently embarrassed by seeing all this whining self-pity exposed to the world to actually do something about it.

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