ambition and impermanence

The theme of impermanence naturally wraps itself around impending departures. Graduating, quitting, breaking-up are departures from school, from work, from love, from once permanent foundations of a once familiar life. When we move on it can be exciting or it can be terrifying.

When we talk in the familiar binary of global north v. global south or developed v. underdeveloped countries, we tend to overlook the subtle yet striking commonalities. And increasingly, we all share impermanence.

Not a single twenty-something expects to be in the same job for over 20 years. And not many of us want to be. With the economic crisis in the US, most people might not expect to be in the same job for a few months. Not in a generation have Americans experienced this novel hesitancy regarding their future prosperity. Yet, for those in the more precarious ‘developing’ world this dynamic has long defined normal life.

I want to share a story from my trek up Volcan Misti. During one of our rests, Hugo, our guide, told the story of how he came to be a guide.

Hugo is in his forties but his youthful complexion and endless curiosity give him the countenance of a 25 year old. He started as a baker, but as time passed ‘ya no me gustó.’ So he opened an ice cream shop but as time passed ‘ya no me gustó.’ So he became a bartender, thoroughly enjoying the social aspect and the constant flow of tourists, but as time passed ‘ya no me gustó.’ Then he went to work in the mines and made plenty of money which was spent accordingly on drunken revelry…but as time passed ‘ya no me gustó.’ Hugo returned to the mountains and became an adventure guide, hiking and climbing his way to success yet again. But as time passed he realized we had a volcano to trudge up, cut his story short and flashed the devilish smile that accompanied his previous declarations of ‘ya no me gustó.’

‘Ya no me gustó’ means I didn’t like it anymore or, to be more idiomatically accurate, I didn’t feel like it anymore. One would not expect this sort of control over economic circumstance from someone in a ‘poor’ country through periods of civil unrest and political upheaval. But the common theme of chosen impermanence amongst mercurial circumstances now binds the north to the south.

Through Hugo’s story I could not help but hear the echoes of my own caprice. In the last three years I have left two great jobs because ‘ya no me gustó.’ But, like Hugo my ambition plays a role in the impermanence of my circumstance.

Not only does it play a role, but for me ambition lies at the heart of the emotional consequence of impermanence. Does change signify the presence of new opportunities or the absence of old? I think eventually the promise of unforeseen future success overtakes the sadness created by the loss of past joy – but that is the thin, unsteady, alchemical line we must walk whenever we take a step into the ephemeral purgatories that separate that which was from whatever will be.

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