I’m honored today to welcome another guest blog from Jordan who is partnering with ALTA to his ALTA.
Ambitions to the highest good
by Jordan Walker
“We think highly of achievement. He’s a fine fellow—honorable, desirable, the perfect gentleman. But ambition is considered more of a tramp than a lady, a vixen rather than a virtue. If her passion and power aren’t creatively and constructively channeled, she could turn on the one who invoked her presence…” —Sarah Ban Breathnach, Simple Abundance
My first career coaching session with Linda gave me a lot to sit with. Of course, there’s the getting-to-know-you (re: The King & I) phase, and I still imagine there are many things that we’ll both discover about each other and out ourselves before all is said and done. While there are numerous takeaways from the conversation—or many, mini-conversations given how much ground we covered—I think what stands out to me, particularly in being framed by the Ban Breathnach’s quote that I read recently is about my own aspirations and desires to become more.
Linda and I identified major themes in terms of what I’m both looking for in a working environment and what I need to be able to bring into said space in order for the relationship to be fulfilling: transparency, mutual appreciation/valuing, and authenticity were among the top ones. In the midst of each of those themes and others, I felt myself really owning for the first time in a while (or maybe even ever to this degree) the fact that I want to be a leader myself.
“…Just as electricity can be life enhancing or destructive, so can ambition. What ambition needs is a new press agent. The only time we ever hear about her is when she’s blamed for somebody’s downfall…” —Ban Breathnach
On some level, I think I’ve been afraid to aspire and live into “greatness” (whatever that might mean) because there have been many abuses that have either happened to me or around by those who seemingly have more comfort with ambition than perhaps is merited. I’ve also held back because I was afraid I couldn’t be more that I was (self-confidence was another major theme of this first session). And, as I was reflecting on all these things, I was thinking, too, about what Audre Lorde wrote in “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power” (Sister Outsider, 1984) about the disconnect between superficial lusting and objectification of our sexualities and the real, lived truth of embodying our desires and the quest for their fulfillment:
“The erotic has been misnamed by men and used against women. It has been made into the confused, the trivial, the psychotic, the plasticized sensation. For this reason, we have often turned away from the exploration and consideration of the erotic as a source of power and information, confusing it with the pornographic. But pornography is a direct denial of the power of the erotic, for it represents the suppression of true feeling. Pornography emphasizes sensation without feeling. The erotic is a measure between the beginnings of our sense of self and the chaos and components of that need…”
In a similar, but different dimension, I think traditional narratives of ambition emphasize achievement without fulfillment, and, to be blunt, I want more than that. I want to feel connected to my work through greater connection and awareness of myself. The answers about who I am supposed to be and what I am supposed to be doing come from inside myself, not from a job description that I desperately try to parrot because I feel like I have to take whatever is offered me.
That being said, there’s also a heavy degree of privilege in that statement; the vast majority of the world knows the taste of limitation and desperation that I likely may never. Linda and I discussed this as well—that in my present standing, I am able to search for a new job (my present vocational focus) with a degree of calm because I can at least afford to pay my bills with what I’m doing right now. Nevertheless, that is a degree of accountability I don’t want to lose, a fire to hold my feet to and take sincere advantage of; then, in practical and pertinent terms, I want to hold my own feet to the fire of authenticity and be myself in an upcoming job interview, because trying to be someone else in others has never worked.
Returning to Lorde’s essay: “The erotic is a measure between the beginnings of our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings. It is an internal sense of satisfaction to which, one we have experienced it, we know we can aspire.” I personally would say I’ve never known real fulfillment in my (admittedly still emerging) vocational journey. This has caused a lot of misery on both sides of the relationships and many sullen days. On some level, I think the conversations I’m now having with Linda serve as a reminder from Greater Forces guiding me: It doesn’t have to be this way. You just have to be willing to try something new (or do familiar things in a new way).
With that, I close this section of the reflection in the pre-interview state. One of Linda’s great gifts during our first conversation was helping guide me through interview prep and even thinking questions I myself want to ask based on the values we identified as vital to me. So, I’ll be checking back in on this one and closing it out in a few days when I reflect on the interview as well…
“…But what if ambition is a gift of the Spirit? What if ambition is part of the authentic package, generously bestowed on us all when we were given our personal gifts? … What if we are supposed to be ambitious? What if our refusal to channel our ambitions to the highest good, the highest good of those we love and the rest of the world, is the real corruption of power?” —Ban Breathnach
I can definitely say having Linda “with” me during the interview process was helpful; I could almost hear her voice reminding me, “Be confident in who you are. Be authentic. Ask the questions you have to ask.” She’s decidedly an upgrade on Jiminy Cricket, and the process went well. I’ll be on the second round of interviews after being moved forward, but I’m still so, so grateful to have more conversations with Linda ahead of me.
If I could say anything about what she’s offered so far, it’s the reminder to be as kind to yourself as you would be to anyone. There’s something to celebrate about all of us. We all bring distinctive gifts to the table. That reminder from Linda has been a bigger gift than I realized it could be.
Jordan Walker is a non-profit professional living in Nashville, TN. He holds both a B.S. in Health & Human Services and Women’s Studies and an M.Div from Vanderbilt University. His background includes Development/Fundraising, PR, Social Media, Hospitality/Community Engagement, and Website Development. Fun facts include that Jordan completed Yoga Teacher Training in 2013, learned how to cook from his Grandmother, and believes, in spite and because of it all, that many things happen because they are meant to (and vice versa).