Re: Ambition

by The Inmate

What chiefly diverts the men of democracies from lofty ambition is not the scantiness of their fortunes, but the vehemence of the exertions they daily make to improve them.

Alexis de Touqueville

I am a determined, committed, tenacious and dedicated part-time employee.  My ambition is to work no more than six hours a day.  Less promotes contentment.  More deprives me of my potential as a human being.  With this schedule I do not miss important opportunities which enhance my non-work related resume.

To insure this lifestyle I have acquired some necessary skills(I only look like an unskilled laborer): guilt-free use of the word, “no,” extreme fear of credit-consumerism, the ability to discern a real emergency from a manufactured one and a bias for home prepared meals and good beer.

Dedication of this kind, however, is not something that has endeared me to management.  During yearly evaluations my “inflexibility” has been mentioned as an “area needing improvement.”  The most ludicrous attempt to extol extra hours from me occurred soon after I became engaged to my wife.  My supervisor, a cliché-spewing, statistic-obsessed, hyper man a few years younger than I was tried the inflexibility approach which I quickly dispatched by reminding him that the only reason I took the job in first place was because it was part-time.  He must have prepared for this answer because in a fatherly voice he said, “You’re getting married soon and I think it’s time you thought about being a more responsible adult.”  I was thirty-one.

Those responsibilities, I assume, are working forty-plus hours so that I could be a really good husband.  If I had my priorities right I could have told my fiancée, “I won’t be seeing you during the week or this weekend, but don’t worry, it’s because I love you and because I’ve now got my priorities in the correct, corporate approved order.  Wait ’til you see the engagement ring I’m going to buy you with all the extra money I make–I should be able to put it in the mail sometime next week.  And wait ’til you see the huge house we’ll be living in, not that we’ll ever be there, since the mortgage will be so high we’ll both be working until we collapse with heart problems, ulcers and migraines–but just think of all the money we’ll save on birth control.  We’re going to have it all, Sweetheart, you just wait–ahhh yes, topped out credit cards, overtime galore, two car payments–it’s what I’ve not known I’ve always really wanted.”

I did not say that to my coffee-drinking, chain-smoking big brother, however, I did explain I had a ticket for him with “Abandon Hope Cruise Liners.”  I just thought maybe he would like to light up a few down there.

Corporate clones have a difficult time with the “unambitious.”  In the Asylum employees are always “moving up,” which means moving out to another city or state or country.  Movers and shakers do not pass up “great opportunities.”  Tom Morris in If Aristotle Ran General Motors makes the point that this transient behavior fractures our society.  Corporate employees live in a strange land, rarely knowing or seeing their neighbors.  The corporation becomes a poor and feeble substitute for family and community, but it produces employees who will sacrifice themselves physically, socially and spiritually upon the altar of a deadline or overtime.

There are many good reasons not to seek jobs that require daily justification.  I work with musicians, writers, actors and graduate students.  Many employees do not want the longer hours that often come with a higher, more responsible position. They prefer more time with their children or they want to pursue hobbies such as woodworking, gardening, music or theater.  I know a security guard who reads the complete works of Nietzsche, Huxley, Shakespeare and others two and three times.

Robert Levering in A Great Place to Work: What Makes Some Employers So Good ( And Most So Bad)  lists rules often found in good companies.  The sixth is the “Right not to be part of the family/team.”  I work in the Asylum’s mail room; I’m a delivery man.  A Human Resource Generalist once said to me, “I bet you just love to drive.”  No, I don’t, I told her.  It’s tolerable, but I drive to make a living and drive part-time to have a life.  I do not love my job, the shared sentiment of 95% of my colleagues, but I love life in ways I know I never could working 50 or 60 hours a week.

Management would be more effective if they did not act as if all employees should view their place in the corporation as membership in a tribal clan fighting for existence.  Not everyone expects to get meaning, self-respect and a sense of their place in the cosmos from the businesses where they work.  Put simply, most people work because they need money.  Ideally, all work should be intrinsically meaningful, but the consumer-driven, impatient culture we live in makes that impossible as does the bureaucratic and technocratic management methods of most floors in the Asylum.

Ironically, corporations would be more effective, have more creative workers and produce a better product if their employees were given more time outside the confines of work to pursue “lofty ambitions.”  The lowly ambitions of fame, power and money have too often superseded or replaced those of virtue, wisdom and love.  Many corporations are managed by those who Ortega y Gasset calls “learned ignoramuses,” individuals who possess knowledge in a speciality, but who lack it anywhere else.  Hence the whole individual is neglected in the workplace because those who run corporations neglect it in themselves.

So, now I have a new goal.  I’m looking for the Corporate Ladder and if I ever find the damn thing–I’m going to push it over.  You do the same.  Now that’s ambitious.


The Corporate Asylum is seeking individuals for entry level positions.  Qualified applicants should be single or willing to ignore their marital vows; have no interest in sleep or long, hot morning showers;  prefer smog-filled cities and ill-lighted warehouses to mountains and beaches;  enjoy working under a dictator; and desire no responsibility or opportunities for creative thought.

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