I work alone, often by myself with no one but the dogs, Pandora, and the Internet to keep me company throughout the day. And that’s ok, I’m one of those folks who treasures my alone-time. But because of that, I often have time to think about things, turn them this way and that, and look at and into them.

One theme that has been rumbling through my thoughts of late is the concept of ambition. Here in the US, we place great value on ambition, and striving to attain things. For some, Attainment and Achievement rule their lives, and drive them from one project to another. We all know folks like this, the workaholics, the businessman who is in the office six and seven days a week, the doctor who is seldom home, the lawyer who is constantly buried in one book or tract or another.

Some of this behavior is created by society. Doctors are expected to work long hours, ditto lawyers. Business persons (men more than women, even today) are expected to put career first, and strive, strive, strive. Now I want to make clear, I am not taking a poke at working moms here, I’m not saying stay at home moms are better persons than those who work. Such choices are often far more complicated than clear-cut, and I respect every parent’s decision about whether to work or to stay at home with their children.

But the line between home and work has been blurring of late, and with the increasing connectivity made available to us by our cell phones and iPads and laptops, often we’re not really away from “work” even if we are. For some it’s hard to turn that phone off, shut the laptop, because the demands of their particular job means they must be able to be contactable at all times.

But is it healthy?

I have friends and family who work these long hours, heck, as a small businessperson with a new company, I’m just as prone as the next person to work too many days in a row. And as long as it only affects me, I figure a bit of that is ok.

What has been bothering me of late, is the rush to judgement of those who may not adhere to such a lifestyle. Who aren’t plugged into the net 24/7. Who may not, just may not, value the hyper-ambition that our nation seems to hold in such high esteem. We see it all the time; parents who choose to stay at home who are considered to be wasting their college education. People who perhaps have a specific degree, who wind up doing something totally different with their lives. Often such folk are looked down upon by others, who feel they’re not living up to their “potential”, whatever that means.

Where is it written that one must do that thing that one is very good at? I am spectacularly good at digging ditches, but it doesn’t mean I want to do it for work. I have a BFA in Photography from a good university, yet I stayed at home with my kids and instead did newsletters for other people. So what? Does that make me, and people who made choices such as mine lesser persons? I think not.

And where is it written that success in the business world leads to happiness, to personal satisfaction? It generally leads to material wealth, oh yes. But who is to say that the family living in a smaller house, with parents who have more time to spend with their growing children, are less “successful” than those in a huge mansion who don’t eat dinner together even once a week?

There’s a concept of Zen Buddhism called Wabi-Sabi. Now, I’m far from an expert on Buddhism, trust me. But in reading I’ve done of late, wabi-sabi has struck a nerve. Basically, it is the art of finding beauty in the simplicity, imperfection, and profoundness of nature. To live the concept of wabi-sabi is to put down the burden of material striving, and to learn to be satisfied with ourselves as we are.

We Westerners are continually striving to improve ourselves; physically, emotionally; materially. When do we say “enough!”? Why can’t we appreciate just being who we are, without all the striving? Part of the problem is certainly the media, and the completely unrealistic image presented to us and to children on the tv and through movies, video games, and YouTube. Part of it is certainly cultural – we pay our sports stars salaries in the millions, and our teachers get vilified for wanting a decent wage and benefits. It seems so upside down to me, and just doesn’t make sense.

My grandfather taught me many things in my youth, not the least of which was to treat each person with respect and afford them dignity. He could and did talk to anyone, in any walk of life, with the same graciousness and listened with the same attention. It was a powerful lesson indeed. Part of the lesson was not to judge someone on the cut of their clothes, the type of car they drove, or the job they held. He judged people (when he did so at all) by their actions, how they treated others, and what they did with their lives that had a positive effect on others.

In my mind, the person who sacrifices in some way for the benefit of others, has achieved more than those who sacrifice the needs of others in pursuit of some nebulous career goal. That parent who stays home with the kids. The child who cares for an aging parent. That teacher who stays in the classroom. The firefighter who volunteers his time, and risks his life for others. Those are achievements, as far as I am concerned.

And as the expression goes, when you’re on your deathbed, are you really going to wish you spent more time at work? I think not.