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Humility + ambition

Updated: Apr 26


I wanted to tell you how I've been doing and also, what I've been up to since the pandemic started.


As someone who is prone to dread, worry, and a dark imagination, one would think an event like this would really put me over the edge, but I'm feeling pretty good. It's as if the rest of the world has caught up with my anxiety, and now I don't have to be the one freaking out... lots of other people are doing it for me. Some of my worst fears are playing out in the world-- a cratered economy, a deadly pandemic, utterly inept national leadership-- and I'm surviving. You're surviving. Most of us are going to get to the other side. I'm recognizing my own resilience and ability to cope, and it is actually serving me well. Frankly, I didn't know I had it in me.


My pottery business is down about 70%, and my new ceramic teaching business came to a screeching halt just as we were into a new session. But I'm finding plenty to keep me occupied and even get myself paid. I've been throwing pots for a friend who has a very large pre-paid order to fill, but no way to staff her studio. I have also been helping a friend whose restaurant had to turn on a dime and start a take-out and delivery business since she had to close her dining room. I'm re-designing and upgrading a website for another friend who has been wanting to increase visibility in her field. All of my skills are being put to use, and I feel engaged and happy to help other people. My work and business may never be the same again, but I'm letting go of control over that for now, staying flexible and open to possibility.


Speaking of control, I recently ran across a list of goals for 2015 as I was cleaning out a cupboard--as you do-- and the list had no less than 22 goals, including "write first draft of book" "make more money than in 2014" and "magical tidy house". Marie Kondo's book had just come out. I literally busted out laughing at this list. I wanted to pat my own self on the head. Don't get me wrong, I love me some goals, and a bulleted list to go with it. But so much has happened in the last 5 years, and very few of the goals resonated with me anymore. Except for the magical tidy house, I still want that so bad.


It made me think about the ego-driven distraction ambition often is, and how personal ambition may prepare one for the coming reset of our lives and culture. It seems incongruous. I've been pondering its opposite, humility, and how it can help to serve personal fulfillment. I'm a typical American in many ways, externalizing my goals, pursuing them, and then feeling like a failure when I don't meet them. That model has not served me well, and it holds me back from trying things that don't fit my idea of worthy goals. It has taken me years, decades, to take on teaching ceramics because I thought I needed to be a studio artist with a successful business. Anything less was a kind of failure. I'm still unpacking all of the things in that baggage, as it turns out, there is a lot in there.


Having humility does not mean I give up pursuing goals and personal fulfillment, but rather to reflect more on the worthiness of my goals, and who and what these goals serve. It's worth questioning. I've never really done that in a meaningful way. My bulleted goal list will not be so clear and simple next time!


That quiet out in the world right now are millions of people having to re-assess their goals, me along with them. What ambitions have you had to give up on for 2020? What spoke to you about those ambitions in the first place, and what are they saying to you now? Tell me all about it.

"We are now transitioning into a culture of renewable energy, and that will produce a culture of stewardship. And this time is going to give us a reset button. How are we going to do things differently on the other side?" Margaret Atwood speaking to Cheryl Strayed on Strayed's new podcast "Sugar Calling" (A reference to her advice column/podcast "Dear Sugar") where she talks to authors she admires and seeks wisdom for the current moment. This conversation led me to this book and this blog post which could be good jumping off points as we assess ambition.


Remember to do all of the things to protect your health and nurture your mind.

© 2019 whitney smith pottery

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