Thursday, March 29, 2012


Ambition, Defined

Two friends of mine moved to Qingdao, China, a few weeks ago to teach. The school gave them an apartment, where they discovered a notebook with this list on the first page and nothing else. The previous occupant, a woman, had been teaching at the school but had left abruptly a couple of weeks earlier. (Proper nouns have been changed.)

2011 – 2012

-Get married to Guillaume.

-Build and sell Emerging Market Strategies LLC.

-Become fluent in Chinese, French, German, Portuguese.

-Maintain a youthful, gorgeous appearance.

-Obtain millions of dollars of funding for Emerging Market Strategies LLC, and Hongshin Consulting LLC.

-Incorporate and build Ba Huy Group, INC.

-Build Hongshin Consulting, fund with profits from Emerging Market Strategies.

-Attract a team of investors, advisors, and employees to me that will help build Emerging Market Strategies, Hongshin Consulting and Ba Huy Group, INC.

-Learn what client needs/wants/interests are, and give it to them. Base Emerging Market Strategies, Hongshin, and Ba Huy off of what the market, investors, clients, consumers, WANT.

-Create a strong foundation for family life. Be a loving, supportive, fun wife, and a loving and responsible mother. Open myself to the world.

-Have lots of friends, do lots of activities.

Nell McShane Wulfhart writes about news and travel and currently lives in Seoul. Youcanreachnell@gmail.com or follow her on Twitter.

82 Comments / Post A Comment


But were any of the items ticked off?


You can imagine what you have done for me.@y

Bus Driver Stu Benedict

That reminds me, I need to check the lottery numbers.


The key is managing expectations.


It's like haggling. You start absurdly high, then end with "do lots of activities" so that seems relatively easy.

Fig. 1 (formerly myfanwy)

@deepomega It's like pancakes...

Reginal T. Squirge

"Hey, I started out mopping the floor just like you guys. But now... now I'm washing lettuce . Soon I'll be on fries. Then the grill. And pretty soon, I'll make assistant manager and that's when the big bucks start rolling in."

Jane Marie

@ReginalTSquirge@twitter sexual chocolate.

Oh, squiggles

The key to it all? Just let your Soul Glo!

Fig. 1 (formerly myfanwy)

I like how Guilliame is the catalyst here.


@Fig. 1 (formerly myfanwy) Hmm... I know Guillaume. Tall French guy, enormous sculpted sideburns, large trendy glasses, raspberry trousers and matching striped shirt and tie on fun days. Nice guy but rather detail-oriented for me, and despises the fact that I do not polish my shoes well enough.

Previous occupant, a woman, may keep him.


maybe some of you will appreciate that as soon as I saw "The Definition of Ambition" I thought of Laura Ingalls Wilder in These Happy Golden Years (one of the later ones anyway) where she writes a composition that says "ambition is a good servant but a bad master," and then gets a good mark even though it was "mostly from the dictionary."
This person (of the list) is a bit more on the ambition is a bad master end of things.


@robyn.andrews Oh yeah... now that you mention it, I do remember Laura Ingalls' bewilderment at acing that essay she had to write. No student these days would get an A on a paper and be all like, "No way, I totally got it mostly from Wikipedia."


@robyn.andrews How much do I love that you referenced that. I thought I was the only one who can quote any line from those books for any given situation. Also applies to L.M Montgomerys Anne books and Emily books. @karencarrot I agree! Also felt the essay was a bit short but what the hey , they probably had lower standards back in them days


@robyn.andrews Yes! I thought of it immediately. Then I was just happy about the fact that Lazy Lousy Lizy Jane was gone by that point, or Laura probably would have gotten accused of cheating.


@DandelionTacy <3ing the hairpin so hard. it made my day in which I didn't make a move on a classmate for fear and repercussions on my career reasons. Oh life. Books never disappoint.

Feminist Killjoy

@robyn.andrews weird you brought that up, i was just thinking about this the other day. also how was it only three sentences?

Justine Garrett

The gap between teaching English and "millions of dollars of funding" is left unexplained.

And yet, I am inspired to make a similar list.

Fig. 1 (formerly myfanwy)

@Justine Garrett Clearly it's related to maintaining a youthful, gorgeous appearance!


@Fig. 1 (formerly myfanwy) Maybe Guillaume is uber-rich, and will fund these millions of dollars?

Justine Garrett

@Fig. 1 (formerly myfanwy) Maybe there's a secret international cash prize for knowing Chinese, French, German, and Portuguese. BUT NOT ITALIAN. Never Italian.

oh well never mind

@Justine Garrett Yay prizes for the Italian speakers! Prizes for all the speakers of more than one language!


@Ophelia Maybe she meant Guillermo . . . del Toro.


I'm pretty sure "Emerging Market Strategies LLC" already exists...


@Ophelia Because she left abruptly and GOT THAT ISH STARTED. She's on her way, man.


DAMMIT. That's where I left my notebook.

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

Maybe "marry Guillaume" is the new slang for "drop acid," because girlfriend's trippin' if she thinks she can get all that done in a year and maintain a gorgeous, youthful appearance.


I know we're going to forever rag on this woman because based on this list she is ridiculous, but I kind of admire her for dreaming as big as she possibly can. I mean, why not?

Alternatively: Ladies, get rid of your lists. They are revolting.


@elizabeast I agree. I also think this is a life goals list, not one for the year...which makes it much less ridiculous.

I know that I'm not in a position to judge anyway, since my life goals include a takeover of Palau, the maintenance of a youthful, gorgeous appearance, fluency in Modern Standard Arabic and a secret romance with Will Arnett.

fuck fuck fuck

@nyikin oh hello there


@elizabeast I can't make a list without flushing it down of the toilet out of humiliation


@elizabeast Arabic is fucking hard. I would settle for just being able to keep case endings straight.


@marisaissleepy We all have our demons.

God forbid I die and someone finds my half-full journals of nonsense.


@nyikin My friend's dad went to Palau for the Peace Corps in the late 70s/early 80s. He discovered a new species and had a child with a local woman.

Oh, squiggles

1. Make hugely ambitious list
2. Leave town abruptly
4. Profit


@Awesomely Nonfunctional I would watch a movie of everything encompassed in that question mark.


I wonder if she was doing some "THE SECRET"-level visualization. It gets lots easier to believe that you can make millions of dollars, get Guillame to love you, and stay youthful forever when all you have to do to make it happen is think about it really hard.


@Kristen yeah, it seemed kind of "secret"ish to me too. the secret's fucking ridiculous... my ex got REALLY involved in that, which made him such a pill to live with. if things didn't go our way, it inevitably became because i didn't believe it/visualize it enough. yech.


At least she seems to be remaining somewhat kind to herself throughout this list. My lists devolve into angry, exasperated name-calling, as I find it somewhat motivational, ie:
1. Clean your apartment, you disgusting monster.
2. Laundry. Do it, buttface.
3. Return your Netflix, you goddamn asshole. You are never going to suddenly be in the mood to watch Blue Valentine.



4. Be kinder to yourself, you crusty jerk!



Oh man, I am never going to end up watching Blue Valentine. What opportunity would be appropriate? "I feel like being inconsolable and uncomfortable and if you could make me feel like there's no hope for true partnership in this world, that'd be great! Pop that sucker in the player."

Tuna Surprise

Saw Blue Valentine on a trans-atlantic flight. Seemed like the right opportunity. There was still 8 hours left on that flight.


@Diana Your periods are much kinder than mine.


Am so glad someone shares my fear of Blue Valentine...its a constant struggle between my love for the Gosling and Michelle and my dread of being so depressed I spend the next year lying on the bedroom floor eating dust bunnies. But as my bff always says "sometimes you just have to put on your big girl pants"

sarah girl

@yeah-elle Hah, I do the same thing! "- Do some laundry because christ how long has it been since you washed those blue jeans you literal pile of trash"

Anna Jayne@twitter

@yeah-elle my phone reminder to take my birth control says "Pill, dummy"


@Diana Saw it on a second date. Not particularly recommended...unless you desire mostly silent/awkward car rides.


@Diana This was exactly my problem, too! I even had access to a free copy some producer friend gave to me and then I deleted the file because I was like, no. Just too depressing. I regret this to this day but I still don't think I would have watched it.


@yeah-elle You will never be in the mood to watch Blue Valentine unless you feel like seeing the crippling collapse of a young couple with a child interspersed with their heartfelt romance mixed with your own sense of impending dread as you realize that the boyfriend you are sitting next to watching this with is probably going to break up with you in the next few weeks.


@cosmia It's like how my friend and I always WANTED to watch "Hotel Rwanda" and "Schindler's List", but how could we just sit down and pop that in? We always said we'd call each other if we were having one of "those" days, but years have gone by and we still haven't.


@Anna Jayne@twitter Mine says "smile"- mostly b/c other people might see it, but also, b/c not having children yet makes me smile.


Calling it: assassinated by business rivals.


Why does this list make me weirdly sad? Is it because the rest of the notebook is empty? Or because I worry that Guillaume did not want to marry her? Or is it because I have no list myself?


@foureyedgirl I agree, this list made me weirdly sad--especially when I got to the last two.

On the other hand, have any of you ever read Sharpen Your Heels? (It's sort of a guide for women in the corporate world.)The author would strongly approve of this list. She could've written it.


Sounds like something Leslie Chang would write about in her ongoing quest to make Chinese people sound like aliens.


Sounds like something out of a Murakami book.

sarah girl

@Puzzler A Murakami list wouldn't include the word "fun." It'd probably also have more items about cooking simple meals and not owning a TV.


@Sarah H. and cats.


@Sarah H. and classical music!


what can i say my list is pretty sims (ya i just abbreved similar)

1. Marry Rupert Grint

2. Build and sell Young Heiresses Ltd.

3. maintain youthful gorgeous appearance (pshaw)

4. Obtain millions of dollars for funding best wardrobe ever

5. Attract a team of PR reps, investors, and other employees who will stop me from making offensive comments on the internet

6. Learn what Rupert Grint's needs/wants/etc are and give it to him (Side goal: convince him that role playing as ron in bed is what he needs/wants)

7. Create a strong foundation for family life. Be a supportive, loving wife who is open to the world.

8. have any friends. do any activities.

idk it goes something like that


@redheaded&crazie We can boil your list down to just 1. All the rest will fall into place afterward. Oh, no, okay, correction:

1. Mention GPA/test scores to Rupert Grint
2. Say yes when he proposes afterward.


@itmakesmewonder You're right! #1 I can make you happen! I'm sure I'm like, waaaaay smarter than all of Grinty's other secret admirers...


@redheaded&crazie He might take your photograph and ask you to sit for his SATs, in which case do it, because it will guarantee goodwill afterward. "Just make your Grintiest face."


@itmakesmewonder "I've been perfecting this for years!"


I think she probably should have added one more: Don't lose this notebook.


I bet she's never actually had a conversation with Guillaume yet.


I think it's awesome. You don't have to be a Secret Wielding Weirdo to know the utility of writing down your game plan.


@halfheartedyoga I don't know. This doesn't sound like a game plan to me. A game plan would include specifics and strategies. This is so generalized, it's basically saying: find investors for some sort of business, make lots of money, invest in another business, etc.
Except for the part about Guillame.


she definitely forgot something at the top, i'd say it's maybe number 3: buy copious amounts of cocaine to sustain myself.

crane your neck

Thank goodness she reminded herself to "do lots of activities."


Well bless her heart.


The fact that half the list is about specific companies she plans to build and sell leads me to believe that this woman might actually achieve at least some of the goals on this list within a year. When I think about building my own company, the list mostly looks like this:
1. Think of a good idea for a company.
2. Don't read any of those articles about how hard you have to work to be your own boss. I can do this with a mojito in hand.
3. Ask a graphic designer friend to make a logo.
4. Stress out that the logo isn't quite right and how do I say this to the graphic designer friend without starting a fight?
5. Realize that if I can't even get a logo made, there's no way I'm going to be running my own company with a mojito in hand.
6. Throw list away. Buy some mint leaves.


@Stowaway Except...there are no specifics about what the companies will actually DO to make money. I mean, naming a company "Emerging Market Strategies" does not mean she's defined what she's...selling? Consulting on? Investing in? I mean, this is way generalized! Maybe your list is better. Think of a good idea first and then move on from there. Also, your sense of humor will take you much further in life than this list of crazy talk will take notebook lady!


@skyslang Ah but proper names were changed. Maybe Emerging Market Strategies is really named Specific Consulting Services for Dog Show Runners or something. Or maybe it's named Moneymakers International, in which case, yes, I think she needs a business partner to, uh, "guide her vision."


"Open myself to the world" way on down the list is killing me.
AFTER running three multi-national corporations, learning four languages, and being the best damn wife and mother possible, she thinks it will be best to just Let Life Happen for a while.
I love her.

Anna Jayne@twitter

I once sat behind a woman on a plane who was working on a Powerpoint presentation about her life, and I could NOT stop watching her write it. I copied down the section called "My Life at 41" (she was probably in her late 20s) and sent it to a friend of mine, so now I have it forever:

I am married to a renaissance man who embodies all the qualities I love and admire – loving, intelligent, strong, confident, adventurous and youthful spirit, spiritual, athletic, funny compassionate. We live in a beautiful, happy home in a warm climate with our child and animals, and also have a ranch, a sanctuary for abused and neglected animals. Traveling a priority for us as we explore the world and expose our child to different cultures. My brand has grown globally with BBC Studios around the world, a large portion of the proceeds dedicated to our foundation that supports global causes that make a difference in the world. I have a private hot yoga studio and fitness studio build on the grounds of our home, where I teach hot power yoga, Brady’s Boot Camp* and do privates. I am an investor in a restaurant like Le Ti in St. Barts with amazing music and dancing on tables where our friends gather and have a blast.

*this was explained elsewhere as being her "brand"

Also one of her 1-year goals was "I fall in love with an amazing man (over 30)"

I kind of love her and kind of am baffled by her.


@Anna Jayne@twitter 'do privates' (snicker) Also, I love how she lists the names of the different types of yoga, and not any of the 'global causes' she specifically wants to get involved with. There is much to be baffled here. She's like a grown up version of a minor character in Clueless.

Better to Eat You With

@Anna Jayne@twitter Assuming you edited the spelling and grammar, this could have been written by any of a number of people I know and/or knew in my twenties.


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