The Condition my Ambition is in

Big birthday this year. Another zero turned over on the odometer of my life. I went from “late middle age” to “early senior”. I still have trouble saying the number.

Somewhere in the last few months since that milestone of mileage, I found an inner strength that has pushed me into being my true self again. Haven’t felt that way for a very long time.

Unfortunately one of the realities in life is that our careers take a big chunk out of our state of mind. When you spend a lot of time doing something and being somewhere, it can become much of who we are.

Ambition drives us to succeed. Get the money, get the title, build the resume. My profession is in the culinary world. Maybe I started out just wanting to cook for a living and being able to support my newly single head of household life and kids, but somewhere along the line it changed.

There was the ambition to own my own restaurant. I did that twice. They both had fabulous media coverage and great reviews. The first one ended for me in an exploded partnership, the other got hit by an economic crisis and sadly went down in a tail spin. The little bit of success, along with a lot of agony made my desire to succeed become painful. I was competitive and angry at the success of others. I was ashamed of my failures.

The reality was also that I wasn’t doing what I loved and had set out to do in the first place. Running a business is incredibly hard. Much of the time you are not behind the stove but behind the counter, HR, financial, dishwasher, you name it. The hours are terrible and your family suffers. Maybe not for all, but for me it was like that.

My television career was something that I basically fell into. I was a tv chef for five years on a nationally broadcast PBS cooking show.  It received a lot of attention, but eventually it evolved and I was no longer part of the cast. The feeling of rejection and envy of others’ success was a negative influence on my psyche. I made a halfhearted attempt to continue doing television but it fizzled. Being onscreen was never even a passion for me but somehow when my contemporaries or less talented people made it, it got under my skin.

It turned out that I loved to teach culinary. It was still being in a kitchen but without the pressure of the business. It led me to meeting all kinds of people, lots of laughs, getting pissed off at times and many, many rewards, just not financially. I found a place where I really and truly could be myself.

My career steered into administration. In the beginning it was great but that feeling of competition took root and began sprouting again. Corporate environments are not fair places. It’s not only about being good at your job, there are many, many other factors involved. I’ve found this to be true in every corporate situation, going back to the 80’s in a whole other business (advertising) when I was just a whippersnapper. Again, early success and then stopping at mid-level, leaving me frustrated and angry. I don’t do politics well.

I settled in this later part of my career,  as a chef behind a desk. Eventually my self-survival instincts kicked in and I tried to make some changes because I was spending too much time in an environment that wasn’t healthy for me. Everywhere I sent my resume I was told how great is was but I was overqualified for the position. I started leaning toward private chef jobs, something I had done before. With the wrong client it can be awful, but with the right client it can be pleasant and very well-paid. Honestly, my title at school did not reflect in my paycheck. I want to be that mom who can treat her adult children to dinner, instead of splitting the check.

The interviews with the private chef clients were not fruitful because of that resume. Wouldn’t I be bored leaving my titled job behind to cook in their home? How do you explain that I was more than bored in that office job than in any house. That I was sitting down all day, me- the person who could run around for hours in a kitchen. When I still taught classes, that was the real me again. Cracking jokes, giving direction, seeing the results and appreciation in others. Also, I am clearly not young. I let my grey hair grow out a few years ago and it actually looks pretty good. Sadly we live in a society where we are judged on age and appearance. Out of frustration I came very close to going back to coloring it.

Then a very liberating thought came to me and opened my eyes.

I have no ambition.

I want nothing except doing what makes me happy regardless of anyone else. Without ambition I could be free!

All I want is to enjoy this life. That odometer is only going to keep going. Some freedom and to be the person that I am, that’s it. Time to share with my expanding family, for my aging parents, for friends, writing, my dog… for whatever the fuck I need to have some joy in life.

At the start of the new year, I decided that I would succeed. But this type of success had nothing to do with myself in relation to others. I gambled, might have to take a pay cut but if I really do this right I might end up making more money. It just has to come from within and no compromises.

First I changed my job at school. I only teach now. I don’t go to meetings, my responsibilities have diminished and I find myself smiling all the time.

At the next interview for a private chef job I really sold myself as not wanting to do anything other than teach a few classes and make people (nice ones) happy by cooking great food. Many private chefs move on because they want to open their own restaurant or they can’t be creative enough for their egos. I flat out said that I don’t have that type of ego, I’ve already had the restaurant and want out of corporate life. Three days a week is perfect for me and I have no interest in career growth. I’m grown.

After cooking for them, I got hired. I feel appreciated and compensated appropriately. The commute along with other little details line up perfectly for the new ambition-less me. Another thing, I wasn’t judged on my grey hair. I prefer to call it silver now.

This all happened within the space of one month. Dropping it all and taking risks, even at this age (ugh, no matter what it still sounds OLD), and not compromising made it happen. Out of the rat-race and not looking for any type of growth is the most liberating feeling I have ever had. At last, success!