What’s more important: creativity or ambition

June 3, 2013 in Career,Life,Philosophy,Travel

“Are rich people ever going to grow up to be writers or are all writers like Mr. Rocque with no money? My father is always saying STARVINGARTIST or STARVINGWRITER. Maybe I better reduce.” -Harriet the Spy

Lately, I’ve been pulled in two directions: one is of love and creativity and happiness, and the other is ambition, negotiation, money.

I found myself nodding along as I read this Elle piece on whether creative ambition is enough to get financial security: “It’s not just time for family. Women want meaning and purpose in their work. They value great colleagues. They also like to give back to society in terms of the work they do, some healing of the planet, and they want flexibility, which is not the same as family stuff—it’s so that they can have a life. Women have much more complex goals, but they also do want money and power. They recognize you’re likely to have much more control over your life if you have those.”

As I traveled from France to Australia to the USA and back again, my priorities changed. On the beaches of Southeast Asia and in the cobblestone alleys of Europe, I became more laid-back, more carefree: I worried less about success and building a career as I spent my mornings rock-climbing/lying on the beach/learning how to cook and spent my afternoons writing. I bought into the “hippie bullshit” of following your dreams, defining yourself by your experiences instead of possessions, not being trapped by cubicles and a 9 to 5 schedule.

But now, I’m living in New York City. Even if I’d rather spend my money on experiences, I still have to spend most of my income on rent, food, public transportation. I work from 9 to 5, Monday through Friday. I’m cramming my travel into those infamous 36 hours from Friday night to Monday morning, even if those little New York City joys sometimes surface as we pour a drop of barolo during a midweek patio happy hour or a break spent reading on the steps of the New York Public Library.

I just finished reading “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg. When I graduated from university, I finished magna cum laude and was named the top student in the journalism department. I focused in women’s studies, taking classes in how women were portrayed in the media and writing papers on how women were expected to balance work and family. My goal was to become a VP in a PR agency, buy a house and get married before I was 30, to shatter glass ceilings and invest wisely and “have it all.”

Reading the book reminded me of those ambitions and those gender-specific assessments. I was criticized in internships and activities for never being nice enough, for being more results-focused than people-focused. My mother and I are remarkably similar in how we interact in business environments: it’s a style that is more masculine and assertive than gentle and kind. In Australia, my bosses joked that I had ice in my veins and a place of coal where my heart should be–mostly because of my curt, brusque style when answering the phones.

I wonder sometimes if those two worlds collided: those people whom I worked with and the friends whom I traveled with. Would they describe the same girl? Would any of the adjectives match up? I’m not sure. As authentic as I want to be with others, as honest as I need to be with myself: as much as I’ve evolved and grown up and adapted to fit the situation, I’m not sure if the beach bum I was would recognized the city girl I’ve become.

I can say this: my travels have made me more creative, more flexible, more willing to look at a problem from all sides. They’ve taught me that while a new dress or a delicious meal might not give me the same enduring happiness as a plane ticket, I can still enjoy it quite thoroughly. Just as you don’t get points for going to the most countries, you don’t get points for working the most hours. And being able to wake up in the morning without an alarm, but to the sun streaming through the window and an entire day of possibility ahead: that’s my favorite feeling, no matter where I am in the world.

  • Gosh, thank you for writing this! I feel ya. And on nights when I really can’t get my mind off of these thoughts, I tend to through impact into the mix as well. For me, it’s all a part of my Type A desire to figure it out and clearly identify my motivations and goals. I’m not sure we have to ultimately choose though. Perhaps if we focus on the day-to-day accomplishments and integrate all of our creativity and ambition into it, we’ll end up living a live that combines the two? I comfort myself with the thought, at least 🙂

  • You and I are one in a like! This is why you need to find a job where you can flex both your creativity and your ambition!!! I couldn’t find one job where I could do both, so I have two jobs and I feel so balanced and complete. 🙂

  • You, gorgeous girl, have never struck me as someone that is cold nor just career focused! Driven… yes, personable… hell yes! I think you pull of the combination flawlessly of goal setting, making things happen and writing and creatively expressing yourself along the way! It is difficult to mask our results driven motives, but why should we? It is that drive and passion that ensure we actually get things done and are able to make our dreams a reality!
    Your last line really resonated with me about seeing ‘an entire day of possibility ahead: that’s my favorite feeling, no matter where I am in the world…’ It takes a very special person to see possibility in each day and it shows so clearly, that you do.

  • Erica

    Ah, the eternal struggle. At least my eternal struggle. I’ve noticed that I’ve become less competitive and much more relaxed at work since I started traveling.. not sure if that’s a good or bad thing, but I figure that’s just who I am now, and the jobs that I find now seem to be okay with it. Though that’s not to say that I don’t go through the occasional (read: constant) panic attack of whether I should be spending more energy trying to climb the corporate ladder.

  • ksommerkamp

    What a great timing for this post, Christine. I’ve been wondering the same. As a gemini, I feel I have a double side just there – one that thinks in numbers, certainty, ambition, money and constant efficiency; and another that likes day dreaming, not planning anything ahead, art, photography, design. I think I’m one of the odd cases that equally enjoy using Photoshop and Excel (yes, I know, Excel!).

    I am certain that I’ll find a way to combine my creativity, passions and ambition… and you’ll do too. Otherwise, I’d go with Andi’s advice – just have it both! 😉

  • Hmm, very interesting. Thank you so much for sharing this! When reading this, I thought about a friend I met while traveling. She was so carefree, open, fun; we became close friends. Then, back to “real life,” we were still friends but things changed. She became more ambitious in the conventional way while I pretty may stayed the same “flexibility” and non-9-to-5er. I think we both looked at each other and said, “Maybe we’re not as alike as we thought.” We want different things from life and that’s okay. But reading this made me feel like I was getting a peek into her perspective. To be honest, I think maybe we’re both being a little judgmental of each other’s lives. Maybe there’s a little twinge of envy from both sides, even if we both wouldn’t change it and embrace our decisions… ANYWAY, thank you for sharing this. Gives me more insight into that friend (and obviously into you, as well!!!)

  • camorose

    Ahhh yes, impact! I’m all about working for a company or doing things that are contributing more beauty into the world. Pretty happy with the balance right now, but I’m constantly working on getting better 🙂

  • camorose

    Yes, I have two right now and I think it’s a nice balance 🙂 Love your work with Eastern Medicine though, I’m so tempted to eventually become certified to teach yoga and maybe learn lots more about acupuncture!

  • camorose

    Thank you so much lady! I was definitely criticized more in college and early in my career for being too driven, but I think travel has really helped me to relax and see the big picture. And, of course, my no-worries time in Australia didn’t hurt either!

  • camorose

    Exactly! Travel has totally helped me chill out and be able to see the big picture. Much less stressed about work now than I was a few years ago, especially after my time in France, Australia and Southeast Asia.

  • camorose

    Haha someone who likes Photoshop AND Excel–that’s a rarity!!! Glad you could relate–and happy birthday! If you’re a Gemini, it has to be right around now 🙂

  • camorose

    So glad that you enjoyed it! I’ve heard that happen a few times with friends who traveled together: it’s so easy to get so close on the road and then not have that friendship quite translate into life at home. Hard transition to make!

  • For sure. But some friendships are for a season, some are for a lifetime, and some ebb and flow… Maybe we’ll find our way back into each other’s lives at a different stage? Either way, it doesn’t erase or take away from the great memories. 🙂

  • Danielle

    Reading your post comes right in the midst of an internal struggle I’m having with this issue. Your career/life/philosophy posts always get me thinking and I can totally relate to the dual lifestyles you write about and the battle of balancing ambition vs. creativity. Hopefully these two ideals won’t have to be mutually exclusive for much longer!! Thanks for sharing Christine.
    http://www.the-lifestyle-project.com

  • Amanda

    This post really resonated with me! I feel like I am constantly struggling with wanting to be an uber successful career woman or say “screw it” and travel… Sometimes I think travel blogs demonize the “9 to 5” and while I agree that it can be very fulfilling to escape the American dream and live/travel abroad I also do take pride in my work and want to build a career. In my personal life I am always flip flopping with whether I want to do a long-term trip in 2 years or move to NYC/London/insert big city here and pursue more of my career (I LOVE my job/industry). I guess I have time to do both but I am only young once and want to do it all! Anyways, excellent post–I am glad to see I am not the only one who struggles with balancing this!

  • This is such a great post, hun. And I resonate with it so much. Ever since I was a teenager I always thought the 9-5 working route wasn’t for me and lived to be free and travel as often as I could. Ever crappy little job I got was money to go some place else. Being qualified to teach abroad meant I could start living in new cultures and move around as often as I can. Now, though, I seem to have gotten to a point where I know what I’m passionate about and good at – writing – and I want to focus properly on that. Not only do I want to be able to start writing and support myself fully by doing that when I get older but I really do want to have some sort of control over what I do. I want to work for publishing houses and would be happy to work my way up in that environment and really make a career – something I never thought I’d say. It’s all part of the learning curve I guess and part of growing up and discovering what it is we’re really passionate about, who we are inside, and focusing on what makes us truly happy.

  • camorose

    So glad that you enjoyed it and that you could relate. Best of luck sorting it all out–it’s a constant journey 🙂

  • camorose

    Thank you! I’m actually back at work today after a week in Iceland and I feel SO fortunate that even after being away and having an an incredible vacation, I’m pretty happy to be back at work and in a routine and a job and a home that I love in an amazing city. I think travel blogs do demonize the 9-5: for me, it’s just about finding a job that you enjoy (AND that pays the bills)!

  • camorose

    +1 🙂

  • Anđela Ćenan

    *thumbs up* for the ‘sun streaming through the window’ – best feeling ever! I never sleep in the complete dark and the sun in the morning motivates me to study more than anything else 🙂

  • camorose

    True! I don’t think I could ever live somewhere without lots of natural light 🙂

  • OCDemon

    Lifestyle choices are many and varied, and there isn’t a “correct” one…but I certainly wish other people would realize that. The travelers who hate the 9-5 at least understand that other people value stability, but the 9-5ers quite often think everyone else is crazy or “wrong,” which is unfortunate. Generally they stop criticizing you when you start sending endless beach photos home, though…

  • camorose

    Truth! I’m a big believer in living the way you want–I’m not saying it’s right, I’m not saying it’s wrong, I’m just saying it is!

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