“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.