Ambition and Mental Health

‘She hadn’t learned to look for the difference yet between what one did and who one was. Hadn’t even known there was a difference.’ (Julia Pierpont, Among the Ten Thousand Things)

I’ve a bit of a chip on my shoulder. I think I’m too clever for the job I’m doing. I work in an administration office of a university. I kind of fell into administration – who doesn’t? Nobody grows up thinking ‘ooh, I really want to be an administrator’. I suppose the problem was that I never knew what I did want to do. Still don’t. And so I did an English degree, because it was my best subject and I loved to read. When I finished that, I still didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I did an MA in Literary Studies. Man, I know how to read books.
Fellow students were progressing into careers in journalism, publishing and libraries. All things I would have loved to do. I didn’t pursue them because, looking back,  I thought I wasn’t good enough, I was afraid to try. All of those are careers which are difficult to get into, jobs often difficult to come by; how could I be one of the successful ones?  I was never particularly ambitious; and so , drifting from one low key position to the next, 16 years after leaving university, here I am working as a PA to a senior academic in a university. Deep in the ‘pink ghetto’ of administration. I dread meeting new people and the inevitable ‘what do you do?’ I want to be proud of my answer. I want to develop, maybe try something new, answer that question without mumbling into my sleeves. But the thought of moving out of this comfortable little patch I have made for myself terrifies me. I talk my way out of any opportunity which might come my way.I want to be ambitious, I should be ambitious.


And this is where thinking, pushing and probing a little bit more I come to the nub of it. Why do I feel I should be ambitious? Why do I feel unable to push myself out of my comfort zone professionally?

I am exhausted. I am pushed to my limits mentally and emotionally and physically. The demands of family life are taking their toll.

Myself and my husband both work full-time; he is studying part-time, two evenings a week. We have a two year old and a six year old. I’ve hardly had an unbroken night sleep in six years. My son has been presenting challenging behaviour for over two years and has just been diagnosed with ASD/ADHD. We are under pressure financially, over half of my salary goes on childcare, and over half of my husband’s on rent. We don’t have a lot of support with the kids. My family are in the UK. I don’t have a lot of friends. We are renting, we can’t afford to buy in Dublin, and have moved house 5 times in 7 years.
And yet, I feel I should be doing more, that this is not enough for one person. I should also have a dazzlingly impressive career as a …….. (fill in the dots, you’re guess is as good as mine.) I am embarrassed that after five years I haven’t progressed from my PA role in the university and that I should have moved to a managerial position by now, as I have seen colleagues do. I like my job, but I am unchallenged and capable of more. But honestly, I don’t feel that right now I would be capable of doing well in a more challenging role. I just don’t have the energy, I have nothing more to give. But again, my critic whispers,  I should be able to do this, I should be able to give more. Should, should, should. Aren’t thousands of women experiencing the same as me and pursuing demanding careers? Why can’t I do it?
I don’t know. Maybe none of those women have children with ASD, maybe they haven’t moved house nearly once a year for the last few years. Maybe they have loads of money and a supportive family close by. But maybe not. Maybe they are bereaved, maybe they are sick, maybe their husband has had an affair, maybe they are having an affair. I will never know. And they will never know about me. We don’t know what is going on behind the exterior people choose to present.

‘The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.’ (Henry Thoreau)

That’s why for me blogging and social media is so engaging; I have read so many tweets and blogs and said ‘yes, yes, me too, that’s me’. Marian Keyes was commenting on an article about Sheridan Smith and her recent withdrawal from her latest show due to her father’s illness. She said, it takes great courage to say I’m not able, not right now. Yes, yes, I thought me too. Also on Twitter , the journalist Sophie Heawood quoted a phrase from a talk by Sheryl Sandberg on being a single parent after the death of her husband,

“Before, I did not quite get it. I did not really get how hard it is to succeed at work when you are overwhelmed at home.”

Yes, yes, I thought me too.

And so I am saying it. I am too overwhelmed at home to push myself further at work. Not now. Not since my son was born six years ago. If people look in and think I am unambitious or that I have a mammy job (yes, someone has said that to me) then so be it. They don’t know what I know.  So when people ask me what I do, I’ll just answer them truthfully and without embarrassment, knowing that it is not all of me, not by a long shot.

26 thoughts on “Ambition and Mental Health

  1. I am unambitious and I have a mammy job extraordinaire in a mammy-filled office but I don’t have any decent explanation…. if you want you can use me to feel better, I don’t mind…


  2. Sound pretty bloody ambitious to me… Change your measure of ambition and success- job titles are just words although the extra money that comes with the words helps it doesn’t define your worth. This blog is brilliant by the way- really resonate with you, HATE telling people I’m a stay at home mum, sometimes make something up just to mix things up a bit (Last time I was out I told a group of people I was a psychic specialising in Australian people- I don’t know either) Hope the diagnosis helps you and your boy, I have spent lots of years working with children with ASD and sometimes wonder if it’s us that are disordered rather than them! X

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Honestly sounds like to me you are a success. You’re holding down a full time job AND raising a family AND supporting your child’s special needs. How is that not achieving? I couldn’t hold down a full time job and support my son, I wasn’t capable of it. Success is the accomplishment of an aim or purpose. This is what I see you accomplishing. You are working, you are momming, you are supporting your son with special needs, you are wifing, you are writing, you are friending. I hope you are youing (taking time out for yourself). You are achieving so much every single day.

    At the end of the day, you will not be remembered by what managerial rank you attain, you will be remembered as a person, a mom, a wife, a daughter. How much love and compassion we bring to the world is our legacy, not which side of the office door we sat on. I understand financial pressures all too well and I know it’s hard to get past that and think that a better/higher level job is the answer, but it’s not always the solution. Great post. Mind yourself first! Noosk

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  4. You most definitely are ambitious! I am one of those English BSc students who went on to a post grad librarian degree. I’m a qualified librarian and I’ve been stuck in my library assistant non professional role for 10 years. I’ve been looked down on as though I’m not ambitious enough to get a professional position. The truth of it is, the recession hit, there were no professional positions. So I got comfortable, I enjoy my job, I’m good at my job, ivw expanded my job but its absolutely not my life. My family are my life and if in years to come when our family expands and I have to give up this position, I will. I won’t feel bad for dropping a career or believe that I’m not contributing to the world. For me blogging allows me to contribute, and to fully be myself and fulfill my dream of writing. A career is not everything. Ambition and drive help you succees and you have both. Life is overwhelming and you know where your focus is. You are doing amazingly, you know what you want out of life. So some aspects of it may be out of reach for now but that won’t be the case forever. Thank you for your honesty in your blog.


  5. You are intelligent, ambitious, beautiful and yes you have goals and aspirations as we all do and it sounds like the job isn’t right for you but it’s right for right now while so much is going on. We all have to be kind to ourselves, trust in the timing of our life and know that right now times might be challenging but things will improve. Social and blogging means you can work towards other goals and that’s exactly what you’re doing with this post here and your blog. There are always priorities for all of us but your main one is looking after you. You are doing amazingly well. Please know that. Speak to yourself as you would, a friend in your shoes. Thanks for writing this xx

    Liked by 1 person

  6. It makes me so sad the amount of pressure that we put upon ourselves as mother’s, we assume that we should be constantly thriving in every aspect of our lives, you are doing absolutely marvellous by the sounds of it, you are in control of everything and sometimes keeping afloat is the most that we can hope for in life, keep trying and that is all you can do, I understand the pressures you have to face with little family support, but this makes you even stronger! I can so relate and this echoes my own blog post this week, you are not alone now, you have a whole host of people on social media to listen and to affirm to you that you are enough, you do not have to be more, this was so well written, you do not know what amazing opportunities will come from this blog : ) xxxxx #StayClassyMama

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  7. I love Sheryl Sandberg, I’ve been (trying) to read Lean In, so far (30 pages in) it’s very good and there are a lot of things she says that are so true about women. For instance, the “imposter syndrome” is when women feel like they are not good enough for the position they are in or the position they are going for, even though in reality they are highly capable. I know you are smart (just look at your wonderful blog!), and I understand it is the difficulties at home which is why you are my hero for admitting, ‘that you cannot do anymore than what you’re doing.’ We put so much pressure on ourselves to do more, but sometimes it is just better to be at peace with what you are doing and with what you have. When you add that extra bit onto your life, sometimes it goes smashing into pieces and you no longer enjoy any of it. This is such a beautiful post for its rawness and candour. I am really enjoying your blog. Thank you for the inspiration and sharing with #StayClassyMama!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Love your honesty and the quotes. We must always say no if we don’t want to take on extra work (or work). I know that’s easier said than done at times. Looking after our mental wellness/wellbeing through our blogging is priceless. We are carers for little people, big people and ourselves!
    It’s so important to have a creative outlet as this is another way of giving something back to ourselves.
    Just like “success”, ambition can mean so many things, but we have to define it ourselves rather than letting others define it for us. As my Dad told me the other day, “Only you know about what’s really going on in your life” so others really can’t judge you. Looking forward to reading more of your posts x #brilliantblogposts

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  9. I agree with susiesurbanite – you are a success already and do not have to prove it to anyone other than maybe yourself. You are dealing with so much and then it sounds as though you are constantly beating yourself up with no praise! I think looking after your own mental and physical health is a priority and not a luxury. I was ‘doing it all’ as a half gp/halfmum and when I caught pneumonia my world stopped turning for a few months and I was forced to reevaluate my life and start thinking of ways to protect myself, look after myself and nurture myself as a mum so I could be there for my children but not put myself at risk of burnout- do not feel guilty for not pushing yourself further with your work- the children will only be little for so long and that will go in a flash. You are amazing in what you write- be proud of what you have achieved on these pages and in real life! I hope this does not sound patronising I did not mean it to be at all!!! None of us have it sorted we just think everyone else does!!! 😉 Lou at


  10. What an honest post and one I can relate too. I work full time and have been in the same job for 7 years. I can do it standing on my head but the job offers me flexibility which is what I need being a mum of a 2 year old. Unfortunately if I were to look at another job with promotion, it would put too much pressure on me and that flexibility may not be there anymore…. #fortheloveofBLOG


  11. Oh my goodness! You write SO well. And thank you so much for such an honest post as you have put into words what I couldn’t express. My situation is obviously different but my sentiments are the same. But you are juggling SO much – you are doing an amazing job. And this dangerous word ‘should’ needs to be banned from our vocabulary I think. Learning to say ‘I can’t and I won’t right now’ is the key to moving forward. Don’t be hard on yourself. A person shouldn’t be measured on their career title but on who they are. #fortheloveofBLOG

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  12. I’ve waged the same war with myself many times but I did decide to push myself and I was promoted. I worked longer hours and I stretched myself so thin that I near enough had a nervous breakdown. After that I valued my easy job and realise that it is a means to an end (paying bills) whilst my children are young. When they are grown up, there will be plenty of time for me and my ambition. I think you should give yourself a break, you are obviously juggling a lot and being there for your kids and providing for them is not doing ‘nothing’ with your life. We are always our own worst critics though aren’t we. I’m sure you are doing an amazing job. Thanks for linking up on #fortheloveofBLOG x


  13. Really enjoyed this post!! Thank you for being so honest and transparent it is so refreshing to see that in writing. The only person that places a time limit on life or career milestones is society, you get to show them whose boss! Good luck with everything!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Ambition is truly our reason to be alive. I hope we can all find our path and latch on to it like our minds have negatively latched on previously. People with mental health issues like us can be so much more powerful than the average! Just think, we can function with 50% or more of our brain worrying, scared, and alone. Imagine how you or I could be with 100% of our beings back to ourselves! Lets do it!

    Liked by 1 person

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