Choosing Not To Work

Ambition is a loaded word. Its Latin origin means an “eager or inordinate desire of honor or preferment”. The word’s historical use has been mostly negative. – Describing someone who seeks only honor, money, fame or power, but with no real plan on what to do with any of those things once they’re achieved. Or someone for whom any means justifies their end goals. It was not a flattering term. It indicated someone who was ripe for betrayal or bribery, had a lack of loyalty, and who was ever-unsatisfied with their lot in life.

But most modern Americans have turned to using it exclusively as a positive word. – Companies hope to hire ambitious people, teachers want ambitious students, young singles look for ambitious mates. People who veer from the path of the high school > college >  40-year career track are seen as unambitious loafers. – Criticized for their lack of contribution. – Told they have to grow up, or that they must have psychological problems, like low self-esteem or depression. How could one possibly not desire honor, money, fame and power? Of course, some people want those things more than others, but to not want them at all? Surely there must be something wrong!

Some people point to how I live and label me as ambitious. They point to my academic track record, my growing investments and my unconventional life. And they see someone with ambition. I understand how someone could be under that impression. But I think what ultimately makes me unambitious is my end goal. Which is basically to live modestly, draw on my secure passive income, and spend my days in leisure.

I’m already at the point, at 28 years old, where I could live off my passive income indefinitely. Now I’m just upping the investments a bit to increase my income up beyond my current needs. At this point, with a top notch education and law degree almost in hand, most people would be setting course on the beginnings of a career. Whereas I am ending mine.

I could try to become a billionaire. Or spend my life fighting for civil rights. Or start shaping a bid for public office. And while there are aspects of those things that are appealing, I’ve started far enough down each of those roads to know that they would ultimately be unfulfilling. People will try to tell me I just haven’t found the right job, or have a bad attitude, or that I’ll be unhappy and alone without a career. Who knew so many people derive their happiness from going to work on Monday? And here I am thinking leisure, friends, play, and the pursuit of knowledge make for a good life. I’m apparently in dire need of a career coach to set me straight.

What really makes me happy is waking, at whatever hour I choose, to the morning of a day without plans. A day that I can use to ride a double century on my bike, visit an older relative, perfect my garden, finish a book, brew a new beer, scale a mountain, sit on a beach, create art, admire art, entertain some friends, study, make music, build something, go sailing, catch a sunset, or just attend to the chores of life at a slow, methodic pace.

Is there anything ambitious about that? Maybe you think so, but I don’t.




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  1. Posted February 16, 2012 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    I’ve been following your journey and blog for a while now and have even teased you about its name given all you do. hope you took that in the humous spirit in which it was intended.

    you are right, ‘ambition’ is a loaded word.

    What intrigues me is not whether you are or not but that you are clearly walking your own path.

    I like to think I’ve done the same, although at age 28 I didn’t even know there was a path.

  2. Posted February 16, 2012 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    @jlcollinsnh I’m all for a good-natured ribbing. In fact, many many people have called me ambitious. Some think they’re complimenting me, others do it jokingly.

    I just wanted to get out there that, while I know most people think of the word as a positive attribute, it wasn’t very long ago that it was more often used pejoratively. Which is, I think, another indication that this ‘go, go, go’, ‘strive, strive, strive’ attitude of modern life is just that, an aspect of our consumer-driven culture. But I think a lot of people just assume that working to the bone is part of the human condition and has been since we were cast out from the Garden of Eden. When, actually, it’s more of a modern, cultural condition that you can either choose to buy into, or opt out of.

  3. Posted February 20, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    and there are pervasive and powerful marketing forces at working to obscure the idea that choice exists.