Marcus Aurelius, aka the most mis-tweeted dead Roman on the Internet, was famously ambitious. Photography: Unsplash

Jonathan Seidler is an Australian writer. This is his column for Esquire.

AMBITIOUSLY, I’m in the process of trying to get a book I only released a few weeks ago adapted for television. It’s always been a dream of mine (I have lots of them, often while showering or operating a motor vehicle), having grown up watching brilliant adaptations of novels like High Fidelity, Trainspotting, He Died With A Felafel In His Hand and Looking for Alibrandi. Apparently writing and publishing a book wasn’t enough, so I’ve set myself an impossible new benchmark against which to judge myself for the next few years.

Unfortunately, getting something made for screen is up there with tightrope walking across two high rise buildings as one of the most difficult things you can do. Especially in Australia. It’s a small market, there’s dwindling pots of money, and much of the best talent is moving offshore, while local resources are occupied with big international productions starring the likes of Ryan Gosling or Sydney Sweeney (fair enough). I have mates who work in film; it’s brutally hard, often thankless work. Based on percentages alone, getting this up is unlikely to happen.

So why bother trying?

Being overly ambitious is something that any school teacher, careers advisor or internal HR person will tell you is a great attribute to bring into the workplace. At the same time, it’s not something we actively like in people on a societal level. People with big, utterly bananas dreams are often terrible at following through. They can make for bad friends and lovers. There’s never a simple answer to questions like ‘what’s been happening?’ Put in the wrong environment, they can also be dangerous. If you’ve got grand ambitions, keep them to yourself or, you know, move to Los Angeles.

Creative ambition is somewhat different to business acumen or a fixation with becoming rich. It remains mostly the stuff of sparkling magazine profiles or sweeping, corporate brand purpose statements. To have a truly unhinged level of ambition, where you believe that one day you will be plucked from obscurity and become a pop star, qualify for Liverpool FC or sell your first sketch show for millions is to sign yourself up for disappointment. It is to constantly chase the next thing and never be happy with your lot or take even a minute to celebrate your achievements. It’s an ouroboros, a problem and solution, because you don’t become Tyler, The Creator by sitting on your arse hoping Louis Vuitton might one day call and give you your own fashion line, but when they do, you’ve instinctively already got your next three irons in the fire.

Ambition is something I always thought I had in endless reserve. I would fight anyone and anything to get something made, push the boundaries and always question why fixed things couldn’t change. Then I became a dad. This is not a story about how kids sap your life force, because that’s patently untrue. However, much like your metabolism, hairline and libido, the pace of your ambition necessarily changes if you want to be actively involved in your child’s life. As discussed in this column, the world of celebrity has given us a great blueprint for what happens when you push back against this inevitability, as David Beckham did by shuttling his young family across the world for football, or when Bradley Cooper tried to method-act his way into an Oscar. Perhaps it also explains why many young fathers coast in middle management roles; many of us arrive at an age where we deem a stable and loving home more important. 

Maybe this tension I feel, one I share with many other parents who like making stuff, is that I currently sit between both camps; a mostly stay-at-home dad who still harbours large and potentially foolish ambitions that are unlikely to be realised in a suburban setting. (This, of course, is not a sensation unique to men and regularly felt more acutely by mothers/primary carers who are knocked out of the professional ecosystem for up to a year when a child is born, only to return to work while juggling the dual responsibilities of looking after an increasingly demanding child.) After all, you can write a book from your bedroom, but you can’t produce a broadcast-quality limited series from your house – unless you’re Bo Burnham.

Harbouring outlandish ambitions while also seeking to be hands-on with a kid is one way of wrestling with your own expiration date. By speaking in future tense, you can remain vaguely relevant in your own mind and confidently project this fallacy to others, living in a fantasy world that doesn’t end with bolognese on the floor at at 5:30pm every afternoon. And it’s much easier to get frustrated with one’s inability to make a full-scale production requiring years of time and money than dwindling social circles, stasis or ennui. It’s possible I don’t want to make a show at all, I just want to have something to talk about that isn’t the terrible twos, or how hard it is to buy a house.

Marcus Aurelius, aka the most mis-tweeted dead Roman on the Internet, once famously said that a man’s worth is no greater than his ambitions. Bit unfair. Also, I feel like he probably had a live in au pair. There are well-known red flags we’re trained to watch out for in men as they age, like the first time they get really into cycling or buy an unnecessary sports car. I wonder if the reconciliation or division of personal and professional ambition, which can realistically happen at any point after 30, is another.

Sounds like a good premise for a TV show, now that I think about it. 

Have you got a minute? Let me pitch it to you.

Jonathan Seidler is an Australian writer, father and nu-metal apologist. He is the author of a memoir called It’s A Shame About Ray and a novel titled All the Beautiful Things You Love, which is out now. Jonno has some interesting things to say about music, fatherhood, Aussie culture, mental health, problematic faves and the social gymnastics of group chats. This is his column for Esquire. You can see all of his previous columns here.