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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Not So Blind Ambition

by Eliana (bio)

This summer, my family and I traveled across the country and visited friends who moved away several years ago. It was comfortable in that way you hope for, when time and miles fall away and you remember why you became friends in the first place.

Among the four adults, three of us have master's degrees and one person is finishing her graduate degree. The conversation turned toward education one night. The thing is, I really want to get my Ph.D. I'm not doing it though. Money, of course, is a factor, but not the biggest one. When I'm honest with myself, I want to further my education for all the wrong reasons. I hate admitting it—I generally don't say it aloud because it makes me sound petty and vain.

See, I'm good at my job teaching English. I've wanted to be a teacher since I was about four years old. My entire patriarchal blessing talks about my career. I'm very lucky to be able to teach part-time while raising my young children. All of that is well and good. If I wanted to get a doctorate to advance my career, I think that would be a valid purpose (although the world of humanities professors is not as glamorous as one may imagine).

If I wanted to get more training to be a better person, to feel like I am fulfilling the measure of my creation to expand my mind, or to make the world a better place, I'd be all over it. Those are things that would come, especially as I'd love to be involved in education policy locally and nationally. But in my heart I know that such lofty ideals aren't my motivation either.

See, I'm a terrible person. I want to get a doctorate because I want to be Dr. Eliana. I want to be thought of us smart, with a paper to back it up. I can't believe I'm telling you all this. I'm cringing even as I type. It is entirely selfish, vain and ambitious for all the wrong reasons. Which is why I'm not doing it.

Is this true for everyone? Of course not! I read a blog post from an acquaintance recently about ambition in his career (he's ok with the link, I checked first). And I think of the only times ambition is mentioned scripturally, most notably in reference to inappropriate use of the priesthood.

I have ambitions that don't speak well of me. I want accolades. I hate this about myself. Gretchen Rubin, in The Happiness Project, talks about trying to rid herself of a need for 'gold stars' from her husband. Gold stars not literally—though I could go for that—but praise for doing things. I see my own tendency of wanting acknowledgement for tasks small and large in Rubin's willingness to shine light on her own pettiness.

God gives us talents. We grow them or don't. We have to make a living and ought to do so to the best of our ability. But how do we figure out our motives? The psyche is a messy place, and this can take some ugly digging. Of course, I believe this to be an ideal place to ask for divine help. Until recently, God has been the only one I've been honest with about ambition. I haven't even tried to hide or hedge or pretend otherwise. And I think He's helped me recognize this flaw and grapple with balance.

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