All the Gold Stars: Reimagining Ambition and the Ways We Strive

Hachette Go Jun. 2023. 288p. ISBN 9780306830334. $28. SELF-HELP
Ambition: the cultural double-edged sword that has been baked into us since the very first gold-star sticker in childhood, deeply rooted in colonialism, capitalism, and ableism. Both praised and punished, gate-kept and judged, people strive to meet its requirements while battling burnout, at the cost of their mental health, and even when they know that in the end, it won’t love them back. Stauffer, Teen Vogue “Work in Progress” columnist and author of An Ordinary Age, explores the abstract concept of ambition and its sometimes depressing concrete effects on society and people’s lives. Drawing on literary, scientific, and anecdotal sources, this title is breathtakingly comprehensive and contains a lovely core of human empathy and gentle curiosity. Topics like race and gender discrimination are not ignored, and unlike so many other self-help books, this one avoids the pitfall of speaking only to the white, middle-class experience.
VERDICT Well-paired with other contemplative titles such as Katherine May’s Wintering and Casper ter Kuile’s The Power of Ritual, and an intriguing counterpoint to popular productivity-focused self-help titles such as James Clear’s Atomic Habits and Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism. An excellent, thoughtful, non-prescriptive treatise on a complicated idea.
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