"Practice Ambivalence" - Life Direction with Amy Poehler

Having made several major life and work transitions in recent years and now working with young adults in that oh-so-fun time of figuring out the future, I often find myself thinking about helpful ways to approach our future as individuals.

A common attitude that guides many is summed up in phrases like, “The world is at your fingertips.” Or, “If you put your mind to it, you can do anything you want.” Essentially, we tell ourselves that if we make just the right choices at just the right times, life will work out perfectly and all will be well. Success, when it comes to down to it, is all about determination. Hard work wins.

Christians, while committed in belief to trust God in all things, including life direction, in practice often twist the comfort, “Do not worry,” into a motivational warning that if we don’t get our act together and make good choices, we’ll be left unhappy. “Blessed are the determined” is our paraphrase of the beatitude, “Blessed are those who persevere.” All the while we neglect the two simple words that are about facing difficulty (“under trial”), not determining to avoid it. When it comes to life direction, we risk believing determination can help us avoid any hardship. Let's be honest; this just isn't true.

Celebrities always have good advice in areas of life direction, right? Okay, maybe not. But I’ve been reading Amy Poehler’s Yes Please and was struck by her overall transparency in telling her story, and in particular, some wisdom she’s learned on her road to success:

“Too often we are told to visualize what we want and cut out pictures of it and repeat it like a mantra over and over again. Books and magazines tell us to create vision boards. Late-night commercials remind us that ‘anything is possible.’” Positive affirmations are written on our tea bags. I am introducing a new idea. Try to care less. Practice ambivalence. Learn to let go of wanting it…

Ambivalence is key.

You have to care about your work but not about the result. You have to care about how good you are and how good you feel, but not about how good people think you are or how good people think you look....

You will never climb Career Mountain and get to the top and shout, “I made it!” You will rarely feel done or complete or even successful. Most people I know struggle with that complicated soup of feeling slighted on one hand and like a total fraud on the other. Our ego is a monster that loves to sit at the head of the table, and I have learned that my ego is just as rude and loud and hungry as everyone’s else’s. It doesn’t matter how much you get; you are left wanting more” (Amy Poehler, Yes Please,  222-225).

As I continue to process my own life transitions, goals, hopes and dreams, as well as support and encourage others in doing the same, Poehler’s reflection is timely. Life isn’t a formula. Hard work doesn’t always win. To practice ambivalence, on the contrary, suggests a posture of openness and reliance on others, that while uncomfortable and unpredictable at times, allows us to let go of our striving and live into a healthy sense of self both today and for the future.

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