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Sunday, 14 March 2010
I've been trying for quite some time to write something along these lines. I've written, rewritten, and deleted this post more times than you might imagine. Aidan's thoughts about wasted education finally galvanised me to try again.
It started with ambition.
I wanted to say "I'm not ambitious", but if you look at the kinds of goals I set for myself then you might disagree. (Semantics? Maybe, but I think semantics are important. Words are, after all, a huge part of how we understand one another.)
I'm not sure I can define ambition well enough to talk about it meaningfully. Is it ambitious to want to "do stuff"? Is it ambitious to want to do things well? And what if I simply want to do these things to the best of my ability, and enjoy the process, and never mind whether I succeed?
Let's leave ambition to one side, then.
I can say with certainty that I'm not competitive.
Oh, I'll compete if I'm playing a game - and I love games, but only so long as it's fun. Competitiveness-in-games is one of the many things I've learnt to switch off if it causes me any level of stress. I don't need extra stresses from things which should be enjoyable... but that's a topic for another day.
As I've grown up, I've come to realise that quite a few people see their lives as one long competition against everyone else - and sometimes people assume that I see things that way, too.
I think it started in school, although I can't put my finger on specific instances to back up this theory. It's hard to make this next point without sounding immodest - but if you've been reading for any length of time, you've probably gathered that I'm an academic sort of girl. So it probably doesn't come as much surprise that I always got good grades in school. And I have a sense that some people thought I got good grades because I was in some sense competing for that 'top of the class' position (when really, I was simply interested in doing my best).
It's taken me many years to unpick this, and to understand some of the consequences. It explains a lot. If people thought I was getting good grades because I wanted to beat them, it's not surprising that there was some resentment. And it also explains the strange assumption that seems to affect careers advisors in particular, that a clever child should want a BIG career, scrambling up some corporate ladder or competing (that word again) for a place in a profession such as medicine or law.
I don't doubt that some people are motivated by the idea of competing against their peers, just as some people are motivated by money. It just happens that neither of those things motivates me.
Why is this even worth talking about? Why am I so determined to tell you what doesn't motivate me? Struggling with the answer to this question may very well be why this has been so hard to write. But I think it's simply because so many people over the years seem to have assumed that these things would provide sufficient motivation.
And yet I seem to have no shortage of motivation.
So I started to think about what does motivate me, and I think it essentially comes from the desire to feel that I'm contributing something. I suppose that's why I like crafts so much (making 'things' that didn't exist before), and writing (likewise), and research (contributing, hopefully, to the sum of human knowledge).
What motivates you...?