The Age of Anti-ambition
Employers witness it now more than ever
I used to think of my job as existing in its own little Busytown — as in the Richard Scarry books, where there’s a small, bright village of workers, each focused on a single job, whose paths all cross in the course of one busy, busy day. In my neighborhood in Brooklyn, I would see the same person at the Myrtle Avenue bus stop several days a week and imagine where he was going with his Dell laptop bag and black sneakers. I’d buy coffee from a rotating cast of the same baristas at the cafe on the third floor of my office building, where I worked as an editor at a magazine. I’d stop to chat with another editor, whose office was on the other side of the wall from mine; sometimes, she would motion for me to shut the door, and we would say what we really thought about some piece of minor professional gossip, important to at most about 3.5 people in the world. I would watch my boss walk toward a meeting with his boss and wonder whether their chat would wind up affecting my job.
We all mostly worked on computers, typing in documents and sending emails to the person on the other side of a cubicle wall, but there was a bustle to the whole endeavor. It was a little terrarium where we all spent 50 hours a week, and we filled it with office snacks and bathroom outfit compliments and after-work drinks. Even on a day when nothing much happened professionally, there was the feeling of having worked, of playing your part in an ecosystem.
Every job had its own Busytown. Although no one in the broader world wanted to talk about, say, cost-cutting strategies for a potential new client, you could find someone in your Busytown who was just as preoccupied about it as you were. In Scarry’s actual Busytown, meanwhile, the world is populated by people (okay, animals) who find it very easy to explain their jobs. They’re policemen and grocers and postmen and doctors and nurses. When the pandemic hit, the people with those Scarry-style jobs had to keep going to work. Their Busytowns rolled on. And actually, those jobs got harder.
Please select this link to read the complete article from The New York Times Magazine.