#25 - Letting Go Of Ambition 🍃
The New Struggle of Choosing Between Professional Achievement and the Rest of Our Lives
Welcome to all 83 of you beautiful dreamers, wanderers, feelers, thinkers, and experimenters on this sunny Wednesday afternoon. A special shout-out to the 2 new subscribers since last week’s issue on what mold can teach us about overcoming hardship.
If you enjoy the ideas I explore here on LWH🏡, please consider sharing your favourite issue with a friend. It would mean the world.
In this week's LWH🏡:
💫 - Letting Go Of Ambition 🍃 by Vandan Jhaveri
🎥 - The Value of Stories in Business by Aswath Damodaran (Talks at Google)
📃 - A Compressed Version Of The Endless Idea Generator by Nicolas Cole (Daily Writing Habits)
🎙- Between Two Worlds by Hidden Brain
Let’s get into this week’s essay.
Letting Go Of Ambition
My friends and I are at a peculiar crossroads. For the first time in our lives, we’re forced to question whether doing the hard thing is the right thing.
Live Like No One Else Can
When we were younger, our parents conditioned us to take on the loftiest professional and academic goals. Whatever our natural inclinations, our families expected us to strive for the most challenging academic or professional trajectories that made use of those innate abilities.
Good with numbers? Be an engineer or a chartered accountant. Showing promise as a musician at a young age? We were groomed to be top-tier performers. Interested in science? How preposterous and confusing to not want to be a doctor.
Early on, our parents chose the most challenging options for us to enrich our experience and accelerate learning. We grew into the challenge and found success. We soon began to enjoy the positive reinforcement and social currency this won us, inspiring us to commit to the newest, most challenging options. We found ourselves addicted to striving, unsure of whether we enjoyed the practice or the feeling of mastery. Two decades of this, and we find ourselves well represented in many of the most challenging creative paths, academic programs, and careers.
As we grow as professionals and develop as students, we jump through hoops for the promise of exclusivity. If there is a group made exclusive through stringent admission requirements, a voice beckons us to want that, often with little attention paid to what is sacrificed in the process. It is generally a given that the sacrifice will be justified. After all, in exclusivity lies security, prestige, and the family's respectability, and there is little more important than that.
Another major reason our parents worked to program this mentality into us was to de-risk our future. Indisputably, there are certain educational paths and subsequent career trajectories that dramatically increase lifetime earning potential, thereby increasing the likelihood of financial stability. Financial stability is accompanied with a level of freedom and comfort that justifies the monumental sacrifice endured by our parents to build a life in the West. Once confident in their children's financial stability, South Asian parents can allow themselves to sit back and finally ask themselves what they enjoy and how they would prefer to spend their own time.
Underlying our parents’ pushes to sacrifice for professional and academic success is a simple idea: do what others won't so that one day you can live like no one else can.
As we find ourselves in the latter half of our 20s, we ask ourselves questions that we would not have ever considered before:
Is doing more school and striving for the most challenging programs correct, or is it better to prioritize starting a family?
Should we move away for a better school, or should we stay closer to take care of our aging parents?
Should we accept a position with a lower salary if it means being closer to the people we love?
These questions are deeply personal, the answers to which depend on each individual's specific circumstances. There's no obvious right answer. All I can say is that for the first time, doing the most challenging thing isn't obviously the right answer. It seems to be something with which my entire generation of South Asian friends currently in professional school are wrestling.
There are also gender-based differences for how this tension manifests. When men question whether they should stunt their own professional growth through taking on more family-based responsibilities, it's seen as progressive, admirable, and endearing. We look fondly on these men who are willing to sacrifice their career for the betterment of their partners, their kids, or their parents.
When women are making the identical decision, it is seen as playing into stereotypes and giving in to socialized submissiveness. Other people may scoff at this from afar, claiming these women are squandering opportunity or getting in the way of their own success. Aside from the external disapproval, the internal guilt and confusion can be overwhelming.
Women can feel pressured to prioritize professional achievement over home-building, despite their actual preferences. There is a premium placed on professional achievement over domestic achievement, therefore discounting any desire to begin domestic life. There is an undeniable guilt associated with wanting to start a family when the option of further career advancement lies before them.
Many of my closest friends are stuck between pursuing a sub-specialization and becoming more specialized physicians or completing their medical training sooner, marrying their long-time partners, and moving in together. Another friend recently deferred her admission into her dream law school, opting instead to stay home for an extra year to help her aging parents with the mortgage as they near retirement. My own partner is mulling over the family and relationship implications of continuing her dental residency in the US compared to a Canadian dental school.
The quality of the schools and the earning potentials after training are no longer the sole considerations. Frankly, they may not even be the largest considerations. That shift feels unnatural. For many of us, weighing any other factors when making these decisions feels entirely wrong.
Settling For More
We struggle to decide whether to defer home-building for a more promising, fulfilling career with a higher financial ceiling or to prioritize starting a family. But perhaps our idea of success should be more holistic, expanding beyond the letters after our names and the number of high-status groups to which we belong. I think that young people are plagued by the pursuit of more, unaware that specialization in any respect, by definition, implies a lack of development elsewhere.
Many of us feel a vague emptiness as we continue to amass our plaques and certifications, oblivious to how all we have done is perpetually prepare. We have never tasted the thrill of an undirected, unstructured, unpredictable life. Maybe that’s all adulthood is—a life that is given form by our value system more than anything else; a life lived in the arena, molded by the agency we finally have the power to exercise. And exercise it, we must.
Before, doing the challenging thing was always the right thing to do. Now, it's figuring out what's right for us that is the most challenging thing of all.
🎥 - Highly Valued
Aswath Damodaran is so much more than merely a corporate finance and valuations professor NYU's Stern School of Business. His teachings and writings on valuations have spanned the globe and influenced many of today's best young financial minds. He's a quant-jock with a deep appreciation for the less concrete narrative side of business.
In his 2017 talk at Google, he talks about the importance of storytelling in business valuation. His presentation style is gripping, rich in examples, nuance, and humour. His intellectual integrity and clarity of thought are inspiring for anyone in pursuit of the truth.
📃 - Transformers
Nicolas Cole writes a popular newsletter on tips, tricks, and strategies for writing on the internet called Daily Writing Habits. Daily Writing Habits is one of the few newsletters I can tolerate on a daily basis since it gets me to look at stale subject matter in a new, exciting way. The insights are always valuable.
Cole believes that with his formula, you can generate endless content. He looks at the "type" of writing, the "idea" being communicated, and why the writer should be listened to. He plays around with these three concepts modularly to come up with tons of ideas. This framework, if nothing else, serves as a fascinating thought exercise. I know the kind of writer I am and where I currently fit in his framework, and it would be interesting for me to experiment with different essay formats/purposes.
On a recent episode by Hidden Brain, Jennifer Morton explains her research on a subject that I believe has massive implications for many immigrant families. Beyond the table-stakes of drive, hard-work, and persistence, there is an under-appreciated requirement for getting ahead for those of us that start worse off—a willingness to leave their friends and families behind.
We're groomed to believe that those that are presented with an opportunity to get out of their unfortunate living situations at home jump at them unreservedly, but that may not be the case. Parents, siblings, and friends can all play a role in holding us back by guilt-tripping us and making us feel like we have an obligation to raise everyone else out of their sorry situations too. No matter how much help these bread-winners provide, it is unlikely to ever be enough.
Listen here for a hearty description of how these newly successful bread-winners can feel excluded from both the new traditional middle-class norms to which they are being exposed and the traditional lower-class norms around which they were raised.