The View from Downstairs

| May 2, 2017 | 1 Comment

I consider myself somewhat ambitious. I want a good life — a nice apartment in the city with wooden floors and lots of natural light, a dog, perhaps a sweetheart, good friends. I want to be able to travel with moderate comfort, affording at the very least the top range of hostels. I want to find a job where I am appreciated and paid well for my efforts, where I have enough time off to travel at all. I want to publish poetry, short stories, and novels, and to get better all the time, to be more and more widely read and for good reason.

But this isn’t what people picture when they think of ambition, is it? I think they picture someone climbing Mt. Everest, or a man in a suit looking out the window of a high rise — thinking not of his view, but of the view from the office above him.

Any of the day jobs I’m considering could be considered unambitious by other people. The helping and helpful professions tend to be undervalued — public interest law, academia, counseling — and don’t get me started on the arts. Corporate lawyers make fun of public defenders, and people who have never taught a day in their lives like to say that if you can’t do it, at least you can teach it. I went to a fancy dinner the other week with some very kind, good people, but when I said I wanted to be a writer, they laughed and said that I should move back home and go into tech.

Not quite as irritating as telling someone your dreams, and having them say, with mixed awe and pity, “oh, how brave.” But close.

It’s not usually an issue for me, worrying what other people might think of my choices. I haven’t had to make that many of them, after all — and at this point, I’m just hoping that I get a job after college, not about how respectable it will be. An AmeriCorps budget would give me more wiggle room than my current college allowance, lucky though I am to have it. Still, it’s concerning that most of the positions which I think I’d enjoy — things that involve helping people, that I feel would make a difference — are not only paid poorly, but regarded poorly. It reminds me of when my friends dragged me to somewhere I very much did not want to go, Dick’s Last Resort, a restaurant where the servers insult the guests with all the class and wit of our current president. The server said I looked like a teacher and librarian, and I think made some sort of mom joke, though it’s hard to remember now. I was wearing my friend’s casual clothing, and I hadn’t packed all of my makeup for the trip, so he probably meant to say I looked intellectually frumpy — but what the fuck is wrong with being a teacher, or a librarian? Both jobs are defined by thoughtfulness and kindness, strength of mind and strength of heart.

Perhaps in a few years, I will be in a different position. I will know just what I want to do besides writing, and I’ll know how, and why. But right now, I have to accept that the types of work I want to do are given little to no credit and respect by society. Maybe it’s due to gender politics or capitalism. Maybe it’s just because the people in power choose which stories get told.

People are silly. They worship the throne without seeing the designs wrought in the woodwork, the signatures of the builders. They think of the view from the corner office, but forget that the most beautiful thing outside that window is not the city but the sky — the sky, which can be seen from anywhere on earth, but is best viewed with your back against the ground, nothing above you at all but the occasional passing plane, cloud, or falling star.

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  1. Rhiannon Pabich says:

    Hi Lydia! This post is beautiful, and reminds me exactly of how I felt near the end of college. I’m not sure if this is reassuring or scary, but in many ways, I still feel this way now, three years out of college. I work in academia and sometimes do feel small when comparing myself to my friends who work in finance,or pharma, or tech. But when I compare myself now to college me, I am so proud of how far I’ve come, and how I’m carving a little niche for myself in a great big field that I’d barely even scratched the surface of (and still learn something about every single day). In response to your post, I’m actually reminded of Dr. Thurman’s quote about asking what the world needs (or rather, not doing that). It sounds to me like you have a solid sense of what makes you come alive, so to hell with anyone who belittles your ambitions! The world is lucky that you’re a helper, and as you start to broaden and deepen and chisel your core network, you’ll find that you won’t even care about the outside world’s misguided opinions on your pursuits, because you’ll be too busy being lifted up and lifting up others.

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