On Professional Success

For some reason, chauffeuring my daughters to the airport inspires very good conversations.

Recently, I mostly listened as Eldest talked about her work at a humanities library in Chicago. I’m proud of how well she is doing and how independent she has become on her modest salary. Even cooler is her emerging self confidence and ambition to take on more responsibilities to continue learning and growing.

She’s feeling more ambitious than ever before, not for status and money, but for influence at another non-profit or in a political campaign. To make the world a better place.

I emphasized knowing people who are known and liked by the hiring decision makers since that type of recommendation is often a tie-breaker. It has dawned on me though, while using the first few weeks of my sabbatical catching up on The New Yorker, that when it comes to professional success, there’s something much more fundamental than that.

A powerful template for professional success is found in these profiles of two of the more successful writers working today, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and  Otessa Moshfegh. In a few words, singleminded sacrifice, otherworldly discipline, a clear sense of life purpose.

Check this interview with Moshfegh. Specifically, 1 minute in.

Favourite holiday. . . “I don’t know if I’ve ever been on holiday.” If you didn’t write. . . “Trying to be a writer”.

Ngozi Adichie is married and has a daughter. Moshfegh is engaged. But they’re writers first, then partners, mothers, whatever else. If their marriages endure, their partners understand that and are okay with it. Both writers isolate themselves for extended periods and willingly make lots of other sacrifices for their art. Their sense of life purpose precludes any concern for “work-life balance”. Work is life.

Both are naturally talented, but at least equally important, they outwork all the other writers seeking their prestigious awards and book sales.

So when you dream about a challenging, consequential, and rewarding professional life, the best question isn’t who do you know, it’s what are you willing to sacrifice?

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Both daughters looking pretty self-condifent

 

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