I have no career ambition, and I’m okay with that

I have a confession to make: I have no career ambition.

I never have.

My lack of ambition felt like the end of the line for quite a few years, especially because those around me were piling on the pressure and judgment. But last year something happened that turned everything around and made me see having no career ambition in a completely new way.

I actually saw that my lack of career ambition had been a blessing.

Let me explain…

Pressure to get a career

From a young age my parents, teachers, and friends told me how important it is to have a good job that you love. But … I just never really bought it and watching other people get burnt out and chewed up at their jobs really put my enthusiasm even further down a notch.

So what did I do? My parents weren’t paying my way, and I still have to eat.

The answer: odd jobs, a bit of construction, some retail, you know the type of thing I’m talking about here. Most if not all of us have been there. It wasn’t great, although I did make some cool friends. The money was nothing to write home about, though.

And the jobs not only were unfulfilling but were also sometimes downright dehumanizing, I’ll be the first to admit it. When you scan through 50 customers an hour at a gas station you start to feel like some kind of robot.

I swear if I ever have to say “hi how’s your day going?” again I’ll flip.

But eventually, I branched out … And found out some valuable things about myself and the hidden value of not having career ambition.

It took a lot of changes with my money mindset to find real prosperity and start to actually see money flow in …

Thankfully I’m there now and I want to tell you how I got there.

Being a cog in a heartless machine? No thanks …

Being a cog in some heartless machine was just never for me, and from an early age, something about the way I related to the world made me see a career as just that.

To be more specific, it wasn’t that I saw a career itself as a negative thing: it was that I saw people’s attachment, devotion, and being locked down by their career as a negative.

Of course, I know the value of hard work and I’m fully aware we can’t always “do what we want.”

But the idea of giving away my life to some large corporation who couldn’t care less if I lived or died horrified me (and it still does).

Maybe it was my dad’s years as a machine operator at an auto plant and the back problems his company’s medical insurance never paid for. Maybe it was how much I hate corporate propaganda.

I felt alienated by the money first mentality and by the idea that our professions define us. I’ve always thought of myself as a unique individual and a job seemed to me like an extension of who we are in some ways, but not the definition. 

Seeing how many people let their career define everything about them down to their soul level depressed me and left me feeling empty. How the hell was I supposed to get enthusiastic about being an insurance salesman or a corporate lawyer or something?

Who knows. But what eventually happened was something unexpected and good … It was actually great.

How I turned things around

The first thing I did was to stop beating myself up for my lack of career ambition.

I also acknowledged that there was an element of laziness in my behavior, but not specifically in my lack of desire for a life-defining career.

Getting myself up off the couch and starting to be more active overall was certainly a positive, but I separated that clearly from my career. Becoming more proactive about life and what I loved to do was very worthwhile, but I never confused that with the still ongoing pressure about why I wasn’t more “serious” about “making something of myself.”

I began to see the potential in being open about the future instead of the drawbacks. I had the freedom that many people would give their last dollar to have …

I took that sense of excitement and began to build on it …

I started with myself instead of trying to change the world outside. Many of us including me live in a Western culture that’s obsessed with work.

The first thing you ask about meeting someone new is “what do you do?” whereas in other cultures it might be “what’s your family?” or even “what religion are you?”

I guess everyone has something in their culture that used to define them – and I’m sure the other focuses also can have their drawbacks and downsides –  but I didn’t choose to be born into a culture that’s work-obsessed. Instead of feeling like a victim, however, I could still work with what was under my control: my response to it and how I would act in my own decisions about my career and life choices.

It started with working on my breathing and finding a bit of inner peace despite the chaos and judgment crowding in on me all around like shrieking banshees.

Looking back I now think of the exercises I learned as the building blocks of my real future success and the tools that helped me start to see that my lack of career ambition was actually a prompting to discover my own gifts and intuitive expertise.

Finding what I really wanted to do…

I wrote down a list of what I’d always wanted to try without focusing on money or “career” specifically. For example, I’ve always been fascinated by animation and I’m a huge comedy fan …

Sounds a lot like cartoons, right?

Pretty much. It’s not like I landed a dream job at an animation studio out of the blue, but I did slowly find some work in marketing that involved animation after getting a college degree in visual arts …

I followed my passion instead of focusing on the idea of a career and it made all the difference.

I had been trying to live someone else’s story

All the years I’d spent under pressure from peers and my elders had been them trying to get me to live someone else’s story. The feeling that I wasn’t good enough had been bearing down on me and keeping me away from my real gifts.

Sometimes it’s the small things that turn out to be your talents, but because I’d been constantly told that I needed something “serious” like becoming a broker or an engineer or a lawyer I’d thought of my skills as useless and silly …

I can still remember all the sketch pads I used up at high school creating basic flip page animations when you went through the pages really quickly. But at the time I’d thought it was just a dumb waste of time.

Now the high-tech version of that pays me a higher salary than my friends who are lawyers.

I’d worked closely with companies in marketing and entertainment that shared my values and paid very generously for my consultation and design help.

Not that it’s about money, but it turned out my lack of career ambition had blossomed into something quite lucrative.

Go figure.

Finding yourself

Sometimes losing yourself in life results in finding yourself on a deeper level. I’ve experienced it myself and that’s why I can tell you it’s true.

Losing my way with external things like a lack of career and not initially going to college seemed like a big defeat at the time, but looking back those “lost years” gave me the time and energy I needed to truly find myself and what motivated me …

Having the privilege to not have all my waking hours taken up by work and career climbing gave me the opportunity to work on myself and my talents and to approach life in an authentic and spontaneous way.

Once I worked on becoming more active and less lazy it also led to me learning to put action above intentions, so that I didn’t just become a lifelong dreamer or chronic mental masturbator …

And in the end, it’s been a very wonderful journey, I have to say.

Redefining success

Part of the success I’ve found was redefining success. To be honest I could work twice as many hours as I do and make twice as much. But since my marriage, I prefer to spend extra time with my wife …

And despite how much I love doing my creative work in my career I also like time to chill.

For me, success is and always has been about a lot more than just a job and income. It’s about my life as a whole. Learning to embrace my own definition of success instead of other people took a massive load off my shoulders and helped me delve into what I’m great at without letting it consume all my time and attention either.

If I lost my job tomorrow…

With all the economic uncertainty who knows, it’s possible I could lose a big contract tomorrow or even see my whole industry get taken over by AI and robots. If I lost my job tomorrow, though, other than figuring out the nuts and bolts of reconstituting my income I would fundamentally be OK.

That’s because the groundwork I put in on accepting myself and loving myself as well as the physiological work on my breathing and the whole state of being gives me a stable foundation for approaching life.

I understand that jobs come and go and that each day I have the chance to start again and do even better at being in the present and doing what I can in the present.

I’m not always a happy camper, but I’m a capable camper, let’s put it that way.

Finding my career by accepting that I have no career ambition

I realize it might sound a little ironic to talk about how I found my perfect career by accepting that I have no career ambition. And I know everyone isn’t that lucky.

As someone who’s done some of the most boring, low-paying jobs out there I understand that having no career ambition can literally make your life worse with less opportunities.

But at the same time, I urge you not to define yourself by your career.  If the only job you can get is lousy, boring, and low-paying you can still take your free time to work on your hobbies and passions.

Find what you would do for free and then turn it into a career, or even if you can’t turn it into a pressure release valve for the frustrations of your life.

Channel your talents and hopes and fears into that activity and get into the moment and into your body through doing something you love, whether it’s designing fashions, building a cabinet or creating an innovative new app.

I still don’t define myself by my career

Despite the success, I’ve found with my job I still don’t define myself by my career. I got lucky enough to transform my passion into a profession, but it still doesn’t define me.

I like to barbecue (cliche, yeah…) and I like my wife and my dog, sometimes not in that order, but that’s another story.

The point is I’m still not Mr. Career.

And getting into my job the way I did also has the benefit that I’m not tied down. I work from contracts and have the freedom and space to take the time I need and focus on what I want, rather than being crowded on by all sorts of external demands and schedules.

Of course, I still end up producing a product, but I’m not a cog in the heartless machine that I was always dreading. My creativity is appreciated and I get to collaborate directly and help make companies that I believe in offer even better products and services.

You won’t find me working for payday loan chains or Wal-Mart, let’s put it that way.

And I still love sketching in the corners of every page of a pad and flipping through it.

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Tina Fey

Tina Fey

I've ridden the rails, gone off track and lost my train of thought. I'm writing for Ideapod to try and find it again. Hope you enjoy the journey with me.

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