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Rainesford Stauffer's Brief But Spectacular take on rethinking ambition


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Amna Nawaz: Freelance writer Rainesford Stauffer focuses her work on younger generations.

Her upcoming novel "All the Gold Stars" takes a closer look at how they view work and burnout. Tonight, she shares her Brief But Spectacular take on rethinking ambition.

Rainesford Stauffer, Freelance Writer: At one point, I think my professional life was my life. I behaved very much as if work was the centerpiece of everything.

I started realizing how much of that was rooted in insecurity that I was never going to be good enough. And once I figured out that we were having a conversation about self-worth and not work, that really changed the way I thought about it.

I was too ambitious as a child. Part of the thing that I'm trying to get away from in adulthood is sort of reconfiguring what my relationship with ambition is. In some ways, ambition was reinforcing the worst impulses of my mental health, that I was only as good as the last thing I produced.

The messaging that I got about education and work and coming of age in general when I was a young adult, I think was really grounded in a sense that we're all running out of time. I felt like there was a lot of messaging around figuring out who you were going to be in the world, what you were going to do, where you were going to go do it as early as you possibly could. And if you hadn't managed to lock down the answers to those kind of key questions, you had failed.

I felt like I was failing young adulthood, when, in reality, that kind of changing course is exactly what young adulthood is. When we focus so much on what someone achieves and how early we do it, the part we miss are all of the other parts of them.

And so one of the things that makes me so passionate about reporting on these intersecting ideas of achievement in young adulthood or life trajectories and ambition is that the more we can unravel these myths of what it means to be good, the closer we can come to feeling good enough.

I'm coming to understand that there's a way to pursue things that matter to you, and it also not be the whole of your identity, which I think is where I was a little bit misguided before, is, I felt like I needed to be one thing. And, in reality, we're all a lot of things.

There were a lot of conversations I had with young adults when I was working on my first book about how work was consuming all their waking hours. They were working three separate jobs and still couldn't afford to pay their rent. And they had no health insurance. And it felt like the more they tried to expand the scope of their lives and to be full, fulfilled human beings in their lives, the more work took from them.

I think, for a lot of us, it was mostly kind of looking over our shoulders, thinking, I should have more figured out by now than I do. I should be doing something other than what I'm doing.

And I think the tricky part about that is those goalposts of what it means to achieve just keep moving. They never stop.

My name is Rainesford Stauffer, and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on rethinking ambition.

Amna Nawaz: Good life lessons for all of us.

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