Why Ambivalence Might Be the Key to Your Success

white building with balcony

I am often asked how I achieved my current measure of success.

My response is a markedly unglamorous soliloquy of: It’s been years and years of hard work, often little money and little bits of progress. 

Good or bad the reality is that most people achieve significant levels of success and get “amazing jobs” after decades of slugging away at it and not because one of the Kardashian sisters tweeted about them on Tuesday and they were famous by Thursday. Despite the plethora of them on reality TV there are very few true celebrity stories. They are a minute fraction of the adult population trying to make it and provide for themselves and their loved ones.  There is a “15 minutes of fame” epidemic and everyone wants to believe that they will be the regular gal from Ohio who gets discovered at the local mall’s food court and is subsequently shuttled off to a life of 400,000+ Twitter followers and late night jaunts with Andy Cohen on “Watch What Happens Live.” 

We don’t want to hear about the 10+ years of working a 9-5 day job to pay the bills while going to graduate school at night and weekends while fitting in private clients at 7 am before the day job and 7 pm at night until you get that regular writing gig on a blog that is slightly bigger then yours and a few more people learn about you and then you spend more time writing and making connections and working diligently.  Yawnnnnnn!

So I had been left asking myself: “If little bits of progress is the reality how does one keep motivated and passionate when avalanches of validation and cash are not waiting around every corner?”

I have struggled with this concept a lot over the years but think perhaps I have stumbled upon a liberating spring of awareness.

When it comes to our careers and success maybe we need to care less? 

Ambivalence just might be the key to success.

You must care about how well you look and feel but not about how good other people think you look. You must care about your work in the world but not obsessively about the outcome. Non-attachment to the results. I am not saying I am good at it, but I do think it is a worthwhile experiment.

Too often books and magazines tell us to cut out pictures of what we want, create vision boards and repeat it as a mantra to ourselves over and over again. I am not intimating that introspection around what you desire most is not important.  It is.  But maybe we want “it” too bad?  Maybe we are too focused on traditional “career success” verses creativity and connection. I realize we all need to earn a dollar and I’m not saying don’t; yet, I can’t help reflecting on the fact I’ve never met anyone whose career success alone has filled them up and made them feel whole.

Our career will always leave us wanting more.  It’s a mash up of unrealistic personal and public expectation, insecurity and financial panic.

Try to care less.

Practice letting go of wanting it so bad.

I realize this could take a lifetime.  (Doesn’t mean it’s not worth it.  In fact, I recommend this book  by Dan Harris and it’s techniques to help)

The older I get (did I mention funny things are happening to my face?)  I notice that most of us rarely feel successful or complete or “finished.” There is always something else to check off the list that we presume will land us smack dab in the middle of success and forever happiness. The truth is we will never climb career mountain and get to the top and shout–I made it.  It doesn’t matter how much you get you are left wanting more.

Ambivalence can help.

Do the good work you need to.  Put your heart into it, respect it, nurture it and then walk away.

Go meet a girlfriend for lunch, take a hike, a hot shower, stretch, call your best friend, meditate, look up a new recipe, plan the trip, remove the Facebook app from your phone, turn off the indicator that beeps impatiently every time a new email arrives, stop eating lunch at your desk! Planes will not fall from the sky and traffic will not screech to a halt if you take a 17 minute lunch break like the reasonable, kind person you are.

We live much of our life pushed forward by the “if only” thoughts and yet the career/life dissatisfaction persists. Let’s not let the pursuit of happiness become the source of unhappiness.  Let’s commit to caring about our work but not necessarily the result and chasing passion rather than popularity.

Did I mention this book might help?





  1. This is such good advice. It is so easy to focus on the end goal – getting that award, the external recognition, that we forget to be proud of ourselves for giving it heart and soul in the first place.
    This was what I needed today – thank you <3

  2. A great post Danielle! There is such a truth in what you wrote and I wonder if I may have got lost in this circle of wanting more…Your post started a whole lot of thoughts right now and I am so very grateful for that! Thank you!
    xoxo, Ronja

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