The Dreaded Self-Narrative, Destroyer of Ambition – “So what are you up to these days?”
“Um. Well I finished grad school last year and I’m working half time as a postdoc.
And then with the other half of my time I’m working with a friend of mine from high school on a startup.”
“Did you hear that Instagram got bought for a billion dollars?”
The self-narrative, that peculiar form of performance art with a well-meaning audience of parents’ friends, acquaintances from the past, and distant relatives, is fraught.
You need a good story. It’s hard to make a major life decision without thinking how it will sound as part of the narrative.
Unfortunately the narratives created through big ambitions often have a lot in common with those created through no ambitions.
They’re circuitous, peppered with uncertainty, and a little incoherent.
Even though you’re not making much sense, the audience’s expectations are probably skewed.
Most startups fail. Not so for startups that people have heard of.
That’s also true for actors and musicians, but the difficulty of succeeding in those professions is notorious.
“I’m an engineer at Google,” is simple, easy to admire, and almost mystical in its meaning to many audiences.
Yet that narrative represents a life choice that limits both reward and risk.
My narrative is becoming more complex rather than less.
But I don’t want to choose a less ambitious path just because I can easily summarize it.
I should say, “Just pretend I’m starting a band.”