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Look at Me
Last uploaded : Wednesday 10th Nov 2004 at 00:06
Contributed by : Meryl Yankelson


An Awards for All 'Voices' commissioned essay

I was recently talking to a documentary producer about how working in television so often means making sacrifices in your personal life. Like many jobs today, TV work usually involves putting in long anti-social hours. It can also be very stressful, unpredictable and lacking in long term stability. I questioned whether it was all really worth it and despondently she said, ?Unfortunately, nowadays you are defined by your career.?

I found this remark very telling. Success no longer felt like a matter of personal accomplishment, but rather like a pre-requisite for social acceptance. It made me wonder what today?s generation of high flyers are really striving for?

I decided to talk to ten of my most ambitious and successful friends. As well as doctors and lawyers, this group includes people in finance, business, media and fashion. They are all people in their twenties whose motivation knows no bounds. I wanted to find out just what was at the root of their unlimited drive. I asked them to sum it up for me and these were the responses.

?I want to meet my family?s expectations and make them proud.?

?I want someone to write my biography.?

?I want to be as successful as my dad. What my dad thinks is the most important thing to me.?

?The desire to be the best in my profession, to be successful and achieve.?

?Pride, Envy, and a hunger to have everything that I want.?

?I want recognition from people from my past like teachers. I want them to see how well I am doing. I also thrive on the challenge.?

I want to push myself to the limit and reach my full potential. Otherwise, I would be letting myself down.

At the moment I?m in it for the money, but eventually I want to do something good for the world.

I do it for the joy of learning and the satisfaction that I get from using my knowledge in a constructive way. I like having my academic achievements acknowledged.

I want to be the best that I can be and I wouldn?t want to let anyone down.

I?m impressed by people with ambition, but it occurred to me that it?s often a reflection of a person?s need to prove him or herself and live up to the expectations of others. Of course it?s natural to want to be recognised, but does work have to provide our ultimate sense of identity?

Increasingly I am noticing that for my friends and colleagues, commitment to work seems to be taken more seriously than commitment to relationships. So many people tell me that they hang around in the office with nothing to do, just so that they don?t have to be the first to leave. At a moment?s notice dedicated employees will drop everything to help out with work, but unfortunately this sort of favour is rarely returned by a company when an employee has a moment of strife.

For the ten people that I spoke to, the concept of a work-life balance doesn?t even enter into the equation. I often feel sorry for them, when they have to miss out on social activities because of work. However, if the effort pays off, I shouldn?t be feeling sorry for them for much longer. As my grandmother so often tells me: ?The only place you find success before work is in the dictionary.?

Still, a part of me suspects that ambition isn?t all it?s cracked up to be. Most parents love their kids regardless of their achievements and real friendships aren?t based on public recognition. Ambition can only get you so far and there is a limit to how good success can make you feel. After all, they say that it?s lonely at the top.

I?d like to talk to the same ten people in thirty years time and ask them if they still feel the same.


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