On Ambition

The other morning, I was chatting on the phone with Rebecca Solnit. Yes, that’s right, Rebecca Solnit. People often ask me, “How did you become friends with Rebecca Solnit?” And I tell them that she came here for our Lit Fest, and I gave her a very earnest introduction where I disclosed how much I loved her work, but then, later, she read my essay at Guernica and reached out to me. Then, she friended me on Facebook, and I had a moment of panic. I wondered if I should put her on a restricted list. I knew that I was not “professional” on my Facebook. But, there she was, commenting on my posts about my gym crush and my kiddo’s quips.

And then, I encountered her in the wilds of Idaho with her face buried in a White Pine. (though she will correct me if I’m wrong, as she has done it before).

Here’s the thing: Rebecca and I have a lot in common. We both grew up in the West. We both had troubled childhoods. We both experienced domestic violence in some fashion. We both love the outdoors. We both love writing. We’re both feminists. We were kind of made to be friends.

A while ago, another writer messaged me on Facebook, “How do you cultivate mentors? You seem to know all of the famous people.”

I didn’t know how to respond. I wanted to respond that I am earnest and authentic, and I work hard. I wanted to respond You don’t get to choose your mentors. They choose you.

When Rebecca and I were chatting, we talked about ambition. We talked about how ambitious we both are.

We talked about how risky it is to be ambitious as a woman. We talked about how men get to be “confident” but, so often, have no ambition. Too many men think that they should just publish and publish and publish, but they don’t have the ambition to drive them to that point.

We talked about how women work their asses off to achieve what they achieve, and that is ambition.


I am fucking ambitious. I will own this.  I am not ambitious to make money. I am not ambitious to have fame.

I am ambitious to make art.

I sold my book to a New York publisher, and I never expected something like that.

My agent told me, “Writers are jealous. When they ask you about your advance, just say that you got enough to write the book.”

To be clear, I really did only get enough to write the book, but I have also been living at poverty level for a while now, so my perception of “enough” is probably different than others.

I had a friend turn against me after my book deal. I had seen her do it to others, and I should have expected her to do it to me, but I didn’t.

Another friend said, “She only wants women that she can mentor or get something from, and you just jumped categories.”

That friend was right.

The price of female ambition is high.

So much of my marriage misery had nothing to do with Caleb’s physical abuse. So much of my marriage misery had to do with the ways in which I had to stifle my ambition.

I have been writing my book while teaching, and this has been tough, but on the nights when I have been able to give myself over to the writing, I have thought, “There is no other job that I would so willingly give myself to.”

I posted a picture on Facebook recently, and people kept commenting “You look happy!” I am happy. I am not happy because I have met a man, or lost a bunch of weight, or ran a 5K. I am happy because I think that I have created some beautiful art. I am happy because my ambition has paid off.

We women are allowed to want things. We are allowed to be greedy. We are allowed to be needy. We are allowed to be independent. We are allowed to be tough, or weak, or rough, or strong, or whatever the fuck we want to be. Most of all, we are allowed to be ambitious.

I am ambitious.