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Bland Ambition (14 comments)

Bland Ambition

Friday, January 04, 2008 - 10:55 AM

A reader writes... I've known my boyfriend for 5 years, and we've been together for about 1, he's 24, and a mailroom clerk. I desperately want him to go back to school and finish his degree, but Im not sure how to go about seriously asking him. He describes his last experience as horrid and a waste of time,but I think it would do him well. My biggest fear is that if we ever get married which he has spoken of before, he'll have no ambition and be stuck in a rut so to speak.
ErikTheRed
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Re: Bland Ambition (Score: 1)
posted Friday, January 04, 2008 - 02:47 PM (#39924)

If you feel strongly about something, you need to find a way to tell him. It's not fair to hold him accountable for wishes you haven't communicated.

That being said, the questions you need answered are why he isn't pursuing a better job (through education or whatever) and what needs to change in order to for him to move in that direction. Then accept the fact that he's going to have to make the change himself - you can't do it for him. If he doesn't make the change and not being married to a mailroom clerk is important to you, then you need to move on.


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Murgatroyd
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Re: Bland Ambition (Score: 1)
posted Saturday, January 05, 2008 - 01:57 AM (#39929)

My biggest fear is that if we ever get married which he has spoken of before, he'll have no ambition and be stuck in a rut so to speak.

Um ... He already seems to be stuck in a rut and without ambition. What I don't understand is why you think you would marry him just because "he has spoken of [it] before" ... You do have some say in the matter, you know. Here's an idea: TELL HIM how you feel about his lack of ambition, and make sure he understands that you wouldn't marry him unless he shapes up (and grows up). If you wouldn't be comfortable married to someone who intends to be a mailroom clerk forever, either persuade him to change, or find someone else.


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markdf
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Re: Bland Ambition (Score: 1)
posted Saturday, January 05, 2008 - 02:59 AM (#39930)
and make sure he understands that you wouldn't marry him unless he shapes up (and grows up).

I'm not sure that you realize quite how hostile that wound sound. You tell a guy something like that, and you're likely to destroy whatever shred of ambition he does possess.

You've got to engage him, get him interested in doing more with his life. Build him up, make him feel like he's too good to be just a mailroom clerk. Playing to his manly sense of greed might help too -- people can be very motivated by the notion of earning enough money to buy cool swag. But threatening him or insulting him would be the very worst thing you can do.

I'd suggest trying to understand why his last experience in school went so badly, and work to correct. As a personal example, I dropped out of a big university because I found it a terrible experience. I recently went back to a small college with a great science program, and I've loved every minute of it.

There are lots of schools out there, and they are all very different. And each program provides a very unique experience. I'm sure that the two of you can find one that will for him.
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Murgatroyd
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Re: Bland Ambition (Score: 1)
posted Sunday, January 06, 2008 - 12:21 AM (#39938)
In Response to markdf (#39930):

I'm not sure that you realize quite how hostile that wound sound. You tell a guy something like that, and you're likely to destroy whatever shred of ambition he does possess. No, I do realize it. C'mon, the guy is 24, he's dropped out of college, and he's hit the glass ceiling as a mailroom clerk?! However, I should have qualified the advice. It may be that her boyfriend is suffering from clinical depression, or from some other psychological or even physical problem (thyroid, for example). Indeed, she should talk with him and try to discover the reason for his lack of ambition/fear of change/low self-esteem/whatever. She should do her best to have him evaluated by a physician, and to make sure he gets professional help if it's warranted. But if he intends to stay a mailroom clerk because that's what he wants to do with his life, she should be frank and honest with him. It's clear that she would NOT be happy married to him in those circumstances.
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markdf
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Re: Bland Ambition (Score: 1)
posted Sunday, January 06, 2008 - 12:43 AM (#39940)
In Response to Murgatroyd (#39938):

24? 24 is nothing. When I was 24, I had dropped out of college too. Now I'm technical analyst, on my way to becoming a chemical engineer. Sometimes people need to spend a bit of time doing a crap job, before they're ready to start moving forward on their career path again. They need time to reflect, to explore that particular part of their life. It's not a race, after all.

Besides, whoever said that we all have to be doctors, lawyers, Nobel Laureates, and congressman? Maybe this guy would rather focus his energy and ambition into other areas of his life; not everyone defines themselves by their job.

This woman shouldn't be starting out from the idea that her boyfriend is broken and needs to be fixed. It's a fundamentally destructive and hostile way of thinking about things. It almost seems to amount to saying that she can't love him unless he's got enough wealth and prestige.

It's one thing for her to want more for her boyfriend, because she cares about him. If you really care about someone, then you'll want them to be happy and successful and to reach their full potential. But once you're making ultimatums about only staying with a person if their job is good enough, if they're ambitious enough, that's not compassion anymore. That's selfishness.
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Murgatroyd
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Re: Bland Ambition (Score: 1)
posted Sunday, January 06, 2008 - 06:07 AM (#39944)
In Response to markdf (#39940):

But once you're making ultimatums about only staying with a person if their job is good enough, if they're ambitious enough, that's not compassion anymore. That's selfishness.

Don't think of it as an ultimatum -- think of it as a statement of the woman's priorities. If in fact that's what the guy wants to do ... well, good for him. But it may not be right for her.

It almost seems to amount to saying that she can't love him unless he's got enough wealth and prestige.

Maybe she just wants to be able to respect the man she marries. And different people have different goals, different standards, and different reasons for wanting certain things out of life.

It's clear to me that this particular woman would not be satisfied being married to someone who was content to be a mailroom clerk for the indefinite future. I doubt that she can change her attitude, nor do I see why she would want to.

If he doesn't want to change, and she can't change, maybe they ought to just face the strong possibility that they aren't right for each other. She doesn't have to marry him. There are plenty of other fish in the sea.


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markdf
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Re: Bland Ambition (Score: 1)
posted Sunday, January 06, 2008 - 08:03 AM (#39945)
In Response to Murgatroyd (#39944):

...he doesn't want to change, and she can't change...

You see the bias here? When it's the man having a less-than-stellar career, you see it as him choosing how he feels. When it's the woman not being attracted to men who aren't wealthy and high-status, you think she's unable to change how she feels. Somehow, men's feelings are able to be changed at will but women's feelings are rigid and permanent. It's a bit of a double standard. And by "a bit", I mean "a LOT".

If this woman can't change her attitude, what makes you think that her boyfriend can change his? But the fact is, she CAN change her attitude. We can ALWAYS learn to accept the feelings of the people we care about. We can ALWAYS respect other people's choices, so long as they're not hurtful or destructive.

There are no positive phrases for describing a person who can only respect those who are wealthy. There's nothing good or noble about being unable to love a man simply because of his job isn't prestigious enough.
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TheOriginalJes
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Re: Bland Ambition (Score: 1)
posted Sunday, January 06, 2008 - 11:02 PM (#39974)
In Response to markdf (#39945):

-Somehow, men's feelings are able to be changed at will but women's feelings are rigid and permanent.-

I think you may be reading into Murga's meaning, here. Her question itself already implies that she is unwilling to change in this regard, and thusly cannot.

Besides, my feeling is she already knows what the outcome will be. She's just reticent to admit it to herself. After all, she's afraid she might consider herself a 'goldigger' for looking out for her future comfort. Even though she seems to really care for this guy.


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Murgatroyd
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Re: Bland Ambition (Score: 1)
posted Monday, January 07, 2008 - 04:02 AM (#39980)
In Response to TheOriginalJes (#39974):

There are no positive phrases for describing a person who can only respect those who are wealthy.

Whoa. Who said anything about wealth? I'm talking about achievement. I suspect she's afraid she won't admire a man who, at the end of his life, would look back and say, "Forty years of being a mailroom clerk -- I used my potential to the fullest!" To steal a line from Robin Williams, who would you respect more? The guy who utters the words, "I'd like to thank the Nobel Committee ..." or the guy who says, "You want fries with that?"

But let's talk about wealth, since you brought it up. Suppose she wants kids. (Please don't tell me she should just change her life goals if he doesn't want children.) I don't know what her career path is, but I'm pretty damn sure that the kids will be better provided for if their father has a job that pays better than a mailroom clerk's salary. If they were to have kids and he continued his mailroom "career," I'd say he was the one who was being selfish, houldn't you?

There's nothing good or noble about being unable to love a man simply because of his job isn't prestigious enough.

Mark, she doesn't have to want to marry him, for whatever reason or even for no reason at all. She's not his property, they aren't pre-destined by Fate to be an eternal couple ... he hasn't even bothered to propose to her. I think she's just being clear-headed enough to realize that their goals in life are sufficiently different that they wouldn't be happy as a married couple.

I have a close friend -- female, my age, smart, funny, sexy -- who's a classic Type-A "over-achiever," sort of like Martha Stewart on speed. (True story: She once said to herself on Saturday night, "Hmm ... I don't have anything to do tomorrow. I think I'll re-tile the bathroom, just to keep busy!" And she did.) I love her as a friend, and there was a time in our lives when we were both unattached and attracted to each other ... and we were both self-aware enough to realize that if we did get involved as lovers, we would make each other's lives a living hell because our personal goals are so different. She found a guy who was right for her, I found a woman who's right for me, and everybody's happy ... because we recognized our incompatibility in a key area. Don't tell me we should have just re-wired our personalities to make things work. Doesn't happen.


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markdf
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Re: Bland Ambition (Score: 1)
posted Monday, January 07, 2008 - 08:56 PM (#39989)
In Response to Murgatroyd (#39980):

"Forty years of being a mailroom clerk -- I used my potential to the fullest!"

If he spends the next 15 years as a mailroom clerk, he'll still have time to go and get a degree, spend the majority of his career doing something awesome, and then retire at 65. Seriously, he's only 24. He's got lots of time. If his last experience with school was a negative one, he probably needs a few years before he's ready to go back. A bit of time away from school is just the thing to prepare someone to go back and do it right.

I don't know what her career path is, but I'm pretty damn sure that the kids will be better provided for if their father has a job that pays better than a mailroom clerk's salary.

And people wonder why the birthrate in western societies is so low... Do people ever consider how destructive this attitude is? So many people who could start families don't, simply because they're held back by this notion that you can't start a family unless you're affluent. And by the time they're affluent, they're too old and settled into their careers to have kids. Sure, some people still do ... but not many. The result? Western nations can only sustain their populations by encouraging immigration from nations where people aren't quite so obsessed with wealth.

Mark, she doesn't have to want to marry him, for whatever reason or even for no reason at all.

No shit, but she asked for advice, and I'm offering some. And my advice is that a) she's being too judgmental, and b) telling him that she'll dump him if he doesn't go back to school is counterproductive. Even thinking it is counterproductive. But if she approaches him from a position of genuine support and encouragement, he's much more likely to take her suggestion to heart.

It's commendable to want the best for someone else. But if your feelings for someone are based on how prestigious their job is, that's ... not so good. It's judgmental and cold, and it warrants a re-evaluation of one's values.

Life takes time to live. There's nothing wrong with spending a few years working in a mailroom, or as a cashier, or landscaping, or any of the countless other jobs people do as they learn how to be a hard worker that can achieve greater things later on in life.

Even Einstein worked in a patent office for 3 years -- after 2 years of unemployment -- before he made his first publication in a physics journal. Those 5 years of his life after graduation look, to naive observer, like a complete waste of time. Nevertheless, he went on to do great things. This guy can too, despite people's low opinion of his current mode of employment.
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Murgatroyd
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Re: Bland Ambition (Score: 1)
posted Tuesday, January 08, 2008 - 12:04 AM (#39991)

If he spends the next 15 years as a mailroom clerk, he'll still have time to go and get a degree, spend the majority of his career doing something awesome, and then retire at 65.

I've got fifty bucks that says if he spends the next 15 years as a mailroom clerk, he ain't gonna go back to school and he ain't gonna formulate the Unified Field Theory. Any takers?

I think it's waaaay more likely that if she did marry him, she'd end up supporting the two (or more) of them for a decade or so ... and then he'd have an affair or outright dump her because she "isn't any fun any more."

But really -- it's OK for him to not want to change ... and it's OK for her to do something else with her life as a result. He hasn't even had the balls to ask her to marry him, and here non-judgmental Mark is ready to condemn her as a money-grubbing golddigger for not wanting to commit her life and change her goals and personality to suit his unambitious lifestyle. But after all, it's broads like her who are responsible for the Decline of the West.

Ratcheting down the sarcasm a few notches, I really think you're projecting too much of your own experience into what you think is this guy's personality and situation. Yes, some people need to pause before they figure out what they want to do (not just you -- look at Kary Mullis [wikipedia.org], for example). But many more people stop and take things easy for awhile and then either don't have the resources to get up and start moving again ... or else they decide they're comfortable sitting where they are and they have another beer or light up a jay.

I suspect this woman simply doesn't want to bet against the odds. She should ask him what his goals are, tell him what her needs and goals are, and try to come to an accommodation if possible ... but if it's not, it might be best if they went back to being just friends. Heck, they've only been dating for a year! Don't shoehorn her into a lifelong commitment.


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markdf
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Re: Bland Ambition (Score: 1)
posted Tuesday, January 08, 2008 - 12:45 AM (#39993)
In Response to Murgatroyd (#39991):

She should ask him what his goals are, tell him what her needs and goals are, and try to come to an accommodation if possible...

You're completely missing my point here.

There are a few different things that this woman can do:

  1. She could keep her mouth shut, and hope things work out. I think everyone, including the woman who posted the question, has decided that this is not a practical course of (in)action.
  2. She could "tell him what her needs and goal are", etcetera, and make him feel like a loser, steal away away confidence he might have had, and ruin any chance of them finding happiness together.
  3. She could very sweetly build up his confidence, stoke his ambition, and get him to want to go back to school.

If she actually cares about this guy, and places even the slightest shred of value in this relationship, option #3 is by far the best.

It's about trying to achieve the best possible results for a given set of circumstances. I know that the whole sitting-down-and-discussing-our-goals silliness is a trendy bit of pop psychology, but it just doesn't work in many situations. It's often very hurtful. There's no nice way to say "my goals are incompatible with who you are". But there are very nice ways to say "you're awesome, and you're too good for that mailroom; when you're ready to go back to school, I'll be right there supporting you".
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Murgatroyd
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Re: Bland Ambition (Score: 1)
posted Wednesday, January 09, 2008 - 12:12 AM (#40013)
In Response to markdf (#39993):

GASP!

OK, I'm shocked! We agree ...

I had essentially assumed (without saying so) the the young lady in question had already tried this and it hadn't worked. In retrospect, I believe I assumed too much -- although it's possible that she has tried persuasion rather than confrontation (her query doesn't rule this out but it doesn't confirm it either). I see where you're coming from, and you're right.

But! If attempts at persuasion and ego-building don't have any effect on him, a frank discussion is the next step.


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markdf
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Re: Bland Ambition (Score: 1)
posted Wednesday, January 09, 2008 - 01:27 AM (#40014)
In Response to Murgatroyd (#40013):

Based on the tone of her post, I assumed exactly the opposite -- that she'd already tried what you're suggesting, the "frank discussion".

Persuasion is a subtle art. I'm sure she's tried some sort of persuasion. But it's a matter of genuinely understanding how guys think -- many women don't really understand how to persuade men, at least not for anything big.

I dated this one girl, just for a few weeks, but she was a master at it. I didn't even realize it until after we broke up. But during that time, my marks went up by an entire letter grade; I also went out and landed myself a four month co-op job paying more than I've ever earned in my entire life. It's kind of scary, in retrospect, just how powerful the effect of a lover's unconditional positive affirmation can be.
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