Thursday, July 13, 2017

How to Live with Envy and Ambition

As time marches inexorably onward, I notice that more and more of my colleagues are, inevitably, younger than me. This wouldn't be so bad, were it not for that they seem to have achieved more in less time. It leads to the inevitable question: what have I done with my life?

Sometimes I feel like I peaked early. My brief moment in the television spotlight began and ended at age 15. My only management role happened back when I was in my 20s. My first (ghostwritten) book was published just before I hit 30. Since then, I've been, in the parlance of the corporate world, an "individual contributor."

If I were a better person, this wouldn't irk me at all. I should be--and am--happy for younger people who achieve directorships, chairs and vice-presidencies. But it does make me question my own talent and ambition. What have I done wrong? Am I too late to make a difference? What qualities do I lack?

Frustrated Ambitions
I've thought about this a lot over the last couple of years. I think my failure to earn management roles can be attributed to a number of factors:

  • Ambition. Rightly or wrongly, I've always viewed ambition somewhat skeptically. Of course I understand that ambition is responsible for a lot of good, when applied to the right projects and causes. But naked ambition, pursuing power for the sake of it, makes me nervous. So I don't chase leadership opportunities, and thus fly under the radar. 
  • Self-confidence. I've never had a lot of self-confidence, even in my (supposed) fields of expertise. It's tough to manage people when you don't believe in your own ability. 
  • Leadership. Who am I to tell people what to do? In my own defence, I've experienced a couple of moments of crisis, during which I took command in order to get people out of a jam, but I found that easy because there were imminent (very minor) threats and the right path jumped out with crystal clarity. But in the longer term, with unclear outcomes, I struggle to offer leadership. 
  • Desire. I love storytelling, and I think, when it comes to my chosen career, that's where my strengths lie. If I moved into management, I'd have to leave all that behind. 
  • All the things I haven't thought of. Believe me, I have no trouble coming up with long lists of my own shortcomings, but those lists pale beside the true picture of my inadequacies, which may be for the best; I'm not sure I could take it if I really knew the full extent of my failings. There are doubtless many good reasons I haven't been earmarked for leadership roles. 
Paths Not Taken--or Started
Sometimes, too, I wonder if I should have just resolved to be poor and stuck with writing fiction as my ultimate career goal. To this day, I wonder what would have happened if I'd finished the spec Star Trek: The Next Generation script I was working on and sent it to to the producers back during that golden era they were accepting material from writers without agents. The odds of anything coming of it, of course, were and are a million to one, but at least I would have known. There's a slim chance I might have found up with an accidental credit, because my (unsent) story, "Electric Sheep," explored what might happen if Data were hooked up to the holodeck and started dreaming. Elements of that story wound up in "Birthright" and "Phantasms" from the show's sixth and seventh seasons, which shows that an idea is worthless until it's executed. I failed to execute, so someone else made the sale(s). 

When Reach Exceeds Grasp, Be Happy with What You Have
Despite the trajectory of my life so far, I still feel as though I have the capacity to serve the public in a leadership context, but only if the opportunity is somehow thrust upon me. That sort of thing generally only happens in some kind of moment of crisis, so naturally I'm not going to wish for that. And perhaps I'm only rationalizing my own inadequacies. 

Most importantly, no matter what happens, I recognize how privileged I have been to work at all, and to do so in fields at least tangentially related to my true desires. I've worked with a great number of amazing women and men over the years, people who I consider friends and mentors. And with almost two decades to go until retirement, there's still much that can happen, and much that I can make happen if I ever find that reservoir of ambition and desire inside myself.

Be Brave Enough to See Your Own Worth. 
Maybe I haven't been a leader, but there are still achievements that I'm proud of. I try to do good work every day, I've been involved with a couple of projects that earned peer recognition, and generally speaking I feel and hope that my clients have been pleased with my work over the years. Maybe asking for more is asking for too much.

How do I live with envy and ambition?

By being grateful, by learning, by appreciating the people around me, perhaps by recognizing that there are many kinds of leadership. Some time ago, a supervisor told me I have leadership qualities that I wasn't recognizing or utilizing. Maybe I should take that advice in the spirit it was meant and start exploring.  

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