Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Alternatively Ambitious: a Free-Spirit Manifesto

Image thanks to nicki

Here's a story: an ex-tutor of mine recently told me in an email (regarding a Masters programme he was providing me with a reference for) that, given my grade history, shouldn’t I “consider a more ambitious choice.”

Here's another story: a friend, who has recently achieved an unconditional place at Cambridge university, told me that, though it now doesn’t matter if he achieves a First or a 2:1 in the work he’s finishing up (and he already has a 2:1, I quote, “in the bag”) he is still doesn’t want to let himself down by achieving anything less than the highest grades he can.

These two things got my wondering: who are we trying to impress? What do we want our lives to do – look good on paper, or fulfil us?

It doesn’t feel it should matter to me that I haven’t applied for a Masters at Oxford – because that doesn’t feel right; it doesn’t feel relevant; if I’m totally honest it doesn’t feel fun. And, while I’m no hedonist, I believe that, to make a unique, positive, passionate contribution to the world – we need to be enjoying ourselves. We need to jump out of bed in the morning thinking ‘YES!’ that’s exactly what I want to do today.

One stage only ever gets us to the next. I didn’t blow any records with my GCSE’s, but I was able to do A Levels. I didn’t manage five A’s at A Level, but I got onto the university course I wanted. My friend has Cambridge, one of the top universities in the world, “in the bag”, and yet he can’t lose his desire for top marks – he truly feels he would be letting himself down if he didn’t get them.

He and I are different people, we’re all different people. But if some of us aren’t interested in traditional academic acclaim; if some of us want to do what we want to do, whether or not it is deemed academically “ambitious” – shouldn’t that be okay? Isn’t it, in fact, braver? Like dropping out of Harvard to follow an acting career; or not bothering to go to university at all; or starting your own business.

I’m not saying one choice is better or worse, I’ve learnt not to make those kinds of empty judgements. I’m just saying: start being who you are, not what you feel you should be.

Dreams are there to be followed, and only if we can free ourselves from the constraints of “shouldn’t you...” or “hadn’t you better...” by not minding how our life-résumé looks from the outside; by knowing innately that we’ve got it going on, regardless of popular opinion – only then can say we are following those dreams authentically.

Having a perfect grade track record would be great; but not at the expense of a true, dizzy love of what I do. Going to Oxford would likely do my ego the world of good, it might even make me damn proud of myself, but it wouldn’t be honest to my own, alternative, personal ambitions, and I’m not willing to ignore those for a vague and unfounded “ambitiousness” – what about you?


Merry said...

I really needed to hear this. Thanks for this post. ^_^


laura said...

thank you for this post, it was good! i'm doing my bachelor in fashion design right now (well, actually there are 3 more years to go) and i'm quite sure i don't want to do a master afterwards. my friends always laugh if i tell them, but i don't want to spend even more time at university - i want to start my own business! everyone should be able to do what they feel like without being judged, that's so true!

by the way: i bought your podcasts (all of them!) some time ago and i loved every single one! listening to them was super-inspiring, though-provoking and just - well - made me happy! i often listened to them with my mp3-player before sleeping and it made me feel inspired, but calm and happy. thank you! (oh, and did i mention i can barely wait for your new annual?) (:

Becca said...

What an awesome post! And so true, sometimes you get to a stage where you wonder what you are doing it for, you or because you feel like that's what you should be doing. Love that you posted this :)

Becca x

Marthe said...

Great post!

I put my law studies on hold to study photography for a year. Everyone told me I shouldn't do it, but I did. And I had a great year! I'm going back to my law studies in the fall, but this time it is 100% because that's what I want. (I found myself studying law just for the fun of it this winter. Who would have thought that?)

The most important thing I've learned from my year abroad, studying photography is that the only one who has to care about what you do is yourself. No need to do things for other people.

your CV is supposed to reflect YOU. Not some fictional perfect version of who others want you to be.

Giorgia Student-Flair Blog said...

This is a very intersting posts. During my university years I decided that I did not want to stress about my grades, I wanted to enjoy any new experiences I could have the chance to do. I've always been an excellent student and I did not mean to avoid studing or not being focused, just not to get obsessed and let grades take over my new life. In the real world, I do not think grades matter so much after all.
I had a friend who could get sick for an exam , fearing to achieve a lower grade and doing nothing else than studying and worrying. I did not want to have the same approach. Yet, I still managed to score 108 out of 110 as my final grade (I come from Italy!). I was passionate about most of the subjects I had in my study plan and studying hasn't been hard work for me, thus meaning I still enjoyed my social life, yet could get the most from my hours of studying.

hapa said...

I had a bit of a bad day today, so your post was just the thing i needed. Thanks! I've come to really enjoy those post, that are not about style on your blog. I truly hope there will be many more.

I'm taking a U-turn in my life this year after finishing my master's programme. I've studied one thing for 5 years and now I'm starting with something completely different. And it's scary sometimes. well, most of the time, but I know, that if I don't do this now, I'll regret it when I'm 50. And I can really understand what your saying about doing things to fulfill your life. That's exactly what I want to do. I want to be inspired by my own life and not envy others.

jamie-lee said...

Lovely post - I think it's so important to just do whatever it is that makes you happy, sometimes your choices might not be the best but as long as you're okay with the direction that you're going in, thats all that mattters :)

Ella said...

great post :)

Eternal*Voyageur said...

I´m not sure that I agree with happiness being the measure of things. Often the better things are harder, and I think that a lot of great people wouldn´t have achieved greatness if they had focused on happiness.

Megan said...

E*V - Excellent point! And one I thought of whilst writing the post, hence my assertion that everybody is different. We should push ourselves, and struggle does often bring a greater kind of happiness. And happiness, of course, means different things to different people. For me, though, it means being authentic and following my gut, even if that won't necessarily award me cultural "greatness".

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