When my (Nora’s) husband, Travis, would sit up in bed late at night and talk to me about his ambitions, I would snuggle down in the bed and try to listen sincerely. For two years in Arizona, we had been trying to recover from unemployment; more so, we were trying to get off a track that seemed to lead us around in circles. When he would talk about angel investors or futures trading and pester me for startup Internet business ideas, I couldn’t understand how he could still aim so high. While Travis was ambitious, I felt very disappointed. I felt like I couldn’t be ambitious anymore because we had been disappointed over and over again. The biggest ambition I could muster was for a new piece of furniture.
On my way to work one morning, I called my grandmother. All my woes spilled out with a cascade of tears. She listened quietly, and then she told me one of her stories.
She got married at twenty-five—later in life than most in that post-WWII culture—to my grandfather, a man with mixed ambitions. He was a trained concert pianist, yet he was told to leave those dreams behind and pursue something more practical, so he became an economist instead. He was still ambitious, studying at the Sorbonne in Paris, and writing articles in his field; but in one area he wasn’t as ambitious: my grandmother’s career. When they married, my grandmother was in night school to become a doctor. He told her that she could continue her studies, if she wanted, but that she had to choose between being a mother or a doctor. Though my grandmother wanted ...1