Where Did My Ambition Go? – GEN – GEN - Freelance Rack

Work from Home freelancing

Post Top Ad

Post Top Ad

Friday, June 26, 2020

Where Did My Ambition Go? – GEN – GEN

Nearly 20 years ago, when I started my career in book publishing, the trajectory for my ambition seemed straightforward. I wanted to be an editor. The path at the turn of the millennium was clear: If I worked hard enough, I could advance in levels from support staff to management as if I were playing a video game, leapfrogging my way to the middle, if not the top. Nice girls, I knew, did not get the corner office, but if we leaned in hard enough, we could get some office or another. That was all I wanted.

I was enormously privileged to believe a direct path existed and that I could follow it if I chose to. I went to a good college and got excellent grades and was taught to believe that after a few years of eating shit as an assistant (link to the paying dues piece?), success was my due. A career in book publishing, I learned at a post-college publishing course that was meant to orient me in this opaque and mysterious yet ultimately glamorous world, would start as an apprenticeship.

There was no way to learn about the industry without sitting in the middle of it and observing — doing secretarial work and watching more experienced editors make decisions, with the goal to become one of those editors someday. But I never made it far enough to reap the benefits of the grunt work.

It only took a few years of working in an office to realize the idea of meritocracy is a lie and the only thing hard work guarantees is unpaid overtime, not success. There were simply too many structural problems — ingrained racism, ageism, and faulty business models. There was too much inequality between workers and bosses, like when the industry grinds to a halt in August as bosses are at their vacation homes and assistants fret about making rent on a room in an apartment with three roommates. There was too much unbridled misogyny, where sexual harassment was a rite of passage for generations of assistants, to foster anything but disillusionment. And all the things that were true then are still true today.

Meanwhile, the path had become long and meandering in the age of corporate consolidation. The corner office was functionally gone; in its place was first a cubicle, and then the end of a communal worktable. Still, I was sure there had to be another way.

After the economy collapsed in 2008, we were told to get off the path entirely, to think outside the box but still inside the system. Ambition was no longer limited by traditional power structures. Don’t let yourself be defined by the role you have in someone else’s company—create a new role at your own company. Social media allowed us to carve out our own identities online, and quickly we all became managers of our own “brand.” We had to monetize our brands. We started to hear the adjective “entrepreneurial” all the time to describe what our aims should be, even those of us who just wanted to create, who cared very little about managing the business side of creating.

It was the post-recession age of startups when anyone with an interesting idea, a penchant for sleek design — and unfettered access to VC capital — could start a business. We were not worried about the sustainability of these businesses. We assumed growth would continue year over year for all eternity, a concept I now like to refer to as the Founders Business Plan. It always worked, until it didn’t. Ambition within these startups was two-pronged: The true believers thought not only could they make gobs of money—they could change the world. There was a moral element to startup capitalism, as if the act of selling things in a brand-new way could inherently be good for humanity. The idea that doing good and making money could go hand in hand.

Between 2008 and 2017, I worked at a number of book-adjacent startups and, worse, corporations with divisions that were meant to “act like startups,” which was just a way to allow for longer hours and faster deadlines. I quit the path completely in 2017 when I got married and was able to go on my husband’s health insurance plan. I no longer needed a full-time job to pay my medical bills. I was free to follow my bliss and bet on me, freelancing full-time, with the idea I could always go back and get a steadier job at a later date. I had the genius idea to leave book-adjacent professions to write about books for digital publications, even as book coverage has been slashed at most outlets and pay rates were beginning to circle the drain.

After a couple years of freelancing and finding plenty of frustrations but also some personal satisfaction from it, I found my dream job: I was the books and culture editor for a smart, left-leaning magazine. I hired great writers and made plans to cover books in ways that felt insightful and exciting to me. I was fulfilled, creatively and professionally. But after three months on the job, the magazine folded when its financial backer pulled out and left dozens of talented journalists unemployed. Benevolent billionaires with pet projects, I learned, should not be trusted to foster one’s career.

I’m lucky. I’m not an essential worker, I don’t have children to worry about feeding, and I have a husband with a good union job who enjoys cooking for me. Where does my ambition go now? The fallback restaurant gigs and teaching jobs I’d envisioned if I couldn’t make a career out of working in media have fallen away. I’ve pivoted so many times that it feels like I’ve been walking in circles. I’ve been watching my industry contract and erode for years now, but the pandemic has killed the possibility of the maybes, the shots in the dark at finding a position in which I can do good work. My personal ambition still roils in my belly, but the path forward is less clear than ever.

At the same time, my ambition for my community and the wider world has gotten bigger and broader. I don’t know exactly where I fit in it, but I do know that I want all workers to be treated with dignity and respect — a small, humble ask that requires an unending amount of work. And I want all people who are unable to work or unable to find work to also be treated with dignity and respect. I want to become more active in organizing, I want to be a resource for those looking for guidance in their careers, and I want to make enough money to be able to throw more of that money at the world’s problems. My medium-size dreams for myself may be getting smaller, but my ambitions for the greater wide world have to be enormous. It’s the only way to get through.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Post Top Ad