Thursday, December 14, 2006


Some half-formed thoughts about ambition...

I didn't really have any, for the longest time. Or at least not much. And I think I frowned on it, to some extent, since so many of the very ambitious people I saw around me were either really unethical or really unhappy.

Early in my PhD program, I remember talking with a guy who was poised to be the next Derrida. I told him that I could sense that he would be a star, and that he would be good at that - that profile would fit him. And I said that I'd hate to be a star, that I'd rather just be somewhere quietly where I could teach, and be well thought of. That's all I could imagine wanting, asking for. Not long after that, I remember declaring to someone that I'd be just fine teaching at a community college. (Now, this means something different where I live from what it means in the States. It means a vocational college, essentially. Where nobody majors in Humanities, they major in plumbing or nursing or graphic design or whatever. And a few Humanities courses are just tacked on as breadth requirements - writing courses, critical thinking courses, etc.)

No longer would I even consider teaching at a community college in Canada. And, while I don't want to be a star by any means - too much pressure! too many politics! and I'm ultimately too shy - I would like to have my work read by a few people, recognized. Yesterday I gave a talk at a small conference here at Dream Uni, a conference showcasing the work of some of the uni's researchers in the Humanities. I was happy to be well received, to have my work recognized here, to think it might have an impact on someone. I want that. I think all this translates into ambition. (This all reminds me of MaggieMay's post, a few weeks back, on how nice it is to achieve recognition at her college...)

So of course, I rethink my feelings about ambition. I see that for me, this just means recognition of the thinking work I do. The time and care that goes into it. My ideas. And with my excitement about collaboration lately - on two panels, on some other stuff - I see that ambition also means, for me, achieving the respect and regard that means people will want to embark on projects with me.

I am also ambitious in the sense that I want to able to be taken seriously where I work (wherever that is!). I want my contributions to matter in the university. Again, I want my ideas to matter - in a service context. This is about voice, I guess. I am ambitious in the sense that I want my voice heard.

That makes me realize how much academia has changed me, especially over the last few years. I've written about this before - about how teaching has brought me out of my shell. I once barely knew I had a voice that could matter. Now that I do, I think that for me, ambition is about respecting that voice.


Mimi said...

I like that.
Really, the whole matter should be about to find your voice and then negotiate the way and the arena you wish to make it heard.
What happened to Derrida-to-be ? I’m curious because it seems to be fuelled only by major ambition of being you-as-a-new-(important person of your choice) often ends up in forgetting what you were there to say.

Hilaire said...

Oh, I soon grew to loathe Derrida-to-be. He is one of those people whose ambition makes him unethical. I haven't seen him in five years, nor have any of my fellow cohort who knew him. He is off at a prestigious place, lying - the same way he did to get the funding he secured to do his PhD. He was example #1 of the corrupting influence of ambition!

MaggieMay said...

Actually, I think *women* particularly are taught to be unambitious: ever notice how it's always a man who wants to be the next Derrida? (Or at least that's been my experience.) I think women claiming "ambition" as their own is a very, very positive thing.

Hilaire said...

Oh, you're so right, Maggie - I wholeheartedly agree. Yes yes yes.