Looking Forward: Rethinking the Ladder

Growing up, my vision of “going to work” was extremely narrow. I pictured myself click-clacking down office hallways in high-heeled shoes. I imagined sitting at a desk lined with silver picture frames, shuffling endless stacks of papers, a telephone receiver balanced on my shoulder. The job itself was never entirely clear but it was obvious that the woman I would become was successful, powerful, and very, very important.

Cut to the present. Most days, you’ll find me perched at my dining table, typing away at my computer next to a window that overlooks my building’s disarrayed jungle of a backyard. There’s not a silver frame or leather briefcase in sight, and I don’t own a single business suit. My uniform of choice usually involves a vintage dress and bare feet—no click-clacking heels for me.

As a relative newcomer to the freelance world, I realize that while I’m extremely lucky, my career is far from what the average New Yorker would consider “successful,” “powerful,” or “important.” It’s challenging, exciting, liberating, unconventional—but lucrative? Glamorous? Cosmopolitan? Not quite.

“If you really pushed yourself,” a friend very kindly said to me recently, “you could go so far. I see you running your own business. You could be a total power player at the top of your field.”

Of course, this was a nice thing to hear. Surprising, but nice. There’s a reason I’ve chosen to sacrifice certain things, however—a steady paycheck, employer-provided healthcare, the comfort of a routine—in order to follow the path I’m on. It’s because in the past year, I’ve thought seriously about what I want to prioritize. For some people, that might be the pursuit of a high-powered career—and I think that ambition is wonderful. For myself, though—and it feels a little funny to admit this—having a successful career is just not that high on my list. I have goals, of course, and I hope to always be involved in creative projects throughout my life, but as far as being a “power player”? Putting in long hours at an office? Moving up the corporate ladder? It’s just not me.

I like to think that my life doesn’t have to conform to a traditional image of success to be successful. I’m willing to sacrifice a higher-paying job and a certain amount of security to pursue what’s meaningful to me.

When I look back on my life in forty years, what do I think will make me happiest?

Having traveled.

Having had adventures.

Having loved.

Having been a good mother.

Having been a student of music, food, art, and culture around the world.

Having taken risks.

Having helped others. 

Sounds successful, powerful, and very, very important to me.

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