Power was once defined for me as the freedom to make choices. Learning about different kinds of socioeconomic privilege, this idea became increasingly ingrained in my worldview. Not only in my opinions on politics and social justice, but in making decisions for myself. And so, while I can’t remember who planted the idea, it has largely governed my life.
Why did I study religion? Because I wanted to study one subject matter from the perspective of a multitude of disciplines, so that I could be conversant in each. Why did I study law? Because I wanted to learn a discipline that would enable me to engage with a variety of subject matter, and be able to contribute valuably. Why did I learn web development? Why do I continue to learn new languages? Because I want to give myself the best possible shot at doing whatever I want.
But while I was busy trying to make sure that I had as many options as possible, I didn’t spend much time considering what I wanted to do with that freedom. In other words: what did success look like to me?
It’s easy to look at people with impressive job titles or big pay cheques, and believe that this is what I should be striving for. But how many of the people in those positions are happy? How many of them feel stuck in jobs that people would kill for? Sometimes I walk up Bay Street and I’m overcome with envy that I’m not doing that I’m not in those big towers with them. But then I remember how miserable I was so often when I was in that position.
So what if I took a job that was both fun and which paid the bills? What if I took a job that I think I can do really well for people working for a cause I believe in? What if I don’t want to do a job where people’s livelihoods depend on me? What if I want to do a job I’m “overqualified” for, but which will give me the freedom to enjoy my life outside of work? What if my goal is to be able to help other people realize their goals, even if I don’t see any compensation for that work?
Does going after the kind of job that will make me happy make me less ambitious than going after the kind of job that will make me wealthy? I put in a decade of hard work – nobody can say I didn’t make sacrifices to get where I am – but am I only “ambitious” so long as I’m miserable?
This past weekend I made a decision that I was afraid to tell my dad. I was worried that he’d be disappointed in me. That he’d think I wasn’t living up to my potential. But the only question that ever seems to concern him is whether I’m making the decision because I feel like I have to.
If power is the freedom to make choices, then I can’t claim to be powerful as long as I permit others to dictate my ambitions.
Posted in: Progress