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About The Book

“Entertaining and highly relatable.” The New York Times

“As hilarious as it is heart-wrenching…[A] gift of storytelling, and an act of reclamation.” —Ashley C. Ford, New York Times bestselling author

A deeply personal memoir about workaholism, the addictive nature of ambition, and the humbling process of picking yourself up when the world lets you down—an anti-girlboss tale for our times for readers of Drinking: A Love Story and Uncanny Valley.

After years of relentlessly racing up the professional ladder, Jennifer Romolini reached the kind of success many crave: a high-profile, C-suite dream job, a book well-received enough that reporters wanted to know the secrets to her success, and a gig traveling around the country giving speeches on “making it.” She had a handsome and clever husband, a precocious child. But beneath this polished surface was a powder keg of unresolved trauma and chronic overwork. It was all about to blow.

Written with self-deprecation and wit, Ambition Monster is a gutsy and powerful look at workaholism and the addictive nature of achievement, the lingering effect of childhood trauma, and the failures of our modern rat race. This is a Cinderella story of success and a brutal appraisal of the cost of capitalism—perfect for people pleasers, overachievers, and those whose traumas have driven them to strike for “goodness,” no matter the cost. With its timely and resonant deconstructing of the American Dream, Ambition Monster is a singular excavation of selfhood, an essential interrogation about the way we work, and an inspiring and affirming call to always bet on yourself.

Excerpt

Prologue Prologue
The first time it happens, I’m standing on a stage. I’m ten minutes into a speech on “authenticity,” “power,” “finding your path”—the series of platitudes-with-a-twist I’ve become known for and am now invited to spout—when my voice cracks and the words in my brain no longer come out as sounds from my mouth. It’s a momentary glitch in the system; a gurgling gasp, air pushing through tissue where language should be. The episode lasts only seconds, but even then I know it is a signal, a “check engine” light. Something is wrong in my body, and what is wrong feels serious.

It’s 2017, early summer. I’m at the height of my career. Earlier that year, I landed a high-powered, high-profile, coveted C-suite job. Two months later, I published my first book—a career guide for misfits—which is well received and positions me to become the thing everyone wants in 2017: a human brand.

Suddenly, people who never cared to talk to me want to talk to me. Suddenly, long-unanswered emails are answered with urgent enthusiasm. For the first time in my life, the people looking over shoulders at parties are looking for me. I field interview requests, get made up for photo shoots, am whisked away to lunches and drinks. I spend chilly predawn West Coast mornings on the phone with East Coast reporters who want to discuss my productivity secrets; what I’m reading, buying, and wearing; how to “get my life.” Afterward, I shower, dress, and drive to the fancy Hollywood office where I spend the next nine to ten hours working my fancy Hollywood-adjacent job.

I’d started my professional life late. After years flailing around as a waitress and a college dropout, I land my first office job when I’m nearly thirty. For the next decade, I slog my way up and through the ranks of print and digital publishing during an era of chaos and free fall, the industry’s boom times long gone. I endure media recessions, closures, and layoffs; work strategically and relentlessly throughout. I understand the fickle, arbitrary nature of success, how difficult any degree of it is to achieve. I’d watched those around me perform, preen, and paw toward it; claw at and covet it. I’d pined for success too. And here it was. If conventional wisdom taught me anything, I knew that when success comes for you, you show up, no matter what shape you’re in. If you don’t, it may never come again.

About midway through my book tour, the sides of my neck begin to ache. The pain is dull, but persistent and throbbing. It’s as if someone has a light clamp on my throat, or I am being strangled by the world’s slowest, most inefficient strangler. I wake up hoarse. By the end of recording a half-hour podcast, I’m panting, each word an act of force. I’d always had one of those voices, low and raspy, straddling the line between Lauren Bacall alluring and two-packs-a-day trashy. But this voice is different. I’ll read half a paragraph aloud and it’ll all sound fine, then inhale and be met with spittle and wheeze, my throat clenched in pain. I know I should slow down and stop talking, but I don’t. Instead, I pitch, promote, and proselytize. People say I sound “sexy.” I banter, quip, and advise.

The throbbing continues. The sounds get weird. I start to worry. Insomnia Google suggests esophageal cancer, ALS, recovery from swallowing a fish bone. Maudlin, I play out my future: These are my last days of normal human talking. I’d better make my last words count.

As I have for most of my adult life, I work through the pain.

Careers are a matter of choice as much as a matter of chance. Long before hustle culture entered the social media zeitgeist, long before social media itself, I was a seven-day-a-week worker. I’d made myself indispensable at every company I ever worked for, in every position I’d ever held. At the expense of nearly everything else in my life, I was always—always—good at my job.

I started working when I was thirteen. I worked in restaurants and in retail, in temp offices crunched behind a desk and in telemarketing, glued to a phone. In high school, I took delivery orders in on-their-last-legs pizza places, made out with the delivery guy in the storage room in between calls. I sizzled up cheesesteaks in suburban Philly delis, adding the American cheese frantically and too late, hot grease running down my arm. I charged late fees to shame-faced patrons at video stores when there were still video stores, hawked death-and-dismemberment insurance; sold bolero jackets and A-line minidresses to women who wondered if they should buy A-line minidresses and bolero jackets. Of course you should.

I found comfort in physical labor, in pushing myself to exhaustion, in earning my keep through a harder-than-necessary day’s work. In my twenties, I trod miles in bars and banquet halls, poured pitchers of deeply desired beer, and endured undesired ass grabs by men young and old; scrubbed deep fryers of French fry barnacles until my hands were blistered; wiped deli slicers clean from tacky liverwurst, and sometimes sliced my fingers too. I disinfected toilets full of other people’s shit, cleaned vomit and cum from the bathroom floors of trendy French bistros, polished glasses and silver over steaming carafes, married sticky old ketchup bottles and wiped out the insides of the lids, lest the customers suspect their ketchup was not pristine, new, bought just for them. I lifted stacked-plate entrées on wide oval trays and marched them across cavernous events rooms until I was sure my elbow would shatter under the weight.

I spent more than a decade serving, serving attitude along with extra baskets of tortilla chips, warm-but-not-fresh baguettes, ice on the side, dressing on the side, lemon on the side, extra béarnaise on the side. I served desserts that had fallen on the floor, steaks that had been spit on, caffeine when they ordered decaf. I served and I charged and I poured and I sold and I answered and I obeyed.

As soon as I could manage it, which was not as soon as I’d hoped, I clawed and crawled my way out of working-class life and into the corporate world, into executive positions, into the box ticking and paper pushing the late anthropologist and anarchist David Graeber defined as “bullshit jobs.” I recognized the bullshit, became quite efficient at navigating said bullshit. I learned to manipulate systems and people within systems and ascended rapidly, ferociously, discovering my version of the American dream—a Cinderella story with a job (jobs!) as the princely prize.

Soon after that, as the result of a high capacity to navigate bullshit jobs, a skill I learned working (actual) shit jobs, I became—to a certain small sector of powerful and influential people—a somebody. These powerful and influential people paid me to write about women and work, to think about women and work, to speak and advise and pontificate about women and work. They flew me to conferences and instructed me to extoll the virtues of productivity, the pleasures of professional ascent. I dutifully obliged.

For years up until the day my voice went out—and even longer after that, longer than I knew I should—I worked constantly, maniacally. I worked when I was sick, when I was tired, when I didn’t want to, when I did. I worked when I was happy, when I was deeply depressed, when I was anxious, when my heart was broken. I worked through full-course-load school schedules and more than one serious health crisis. When I was pregnant, I worked until my due date, worked during maternity leave too, rocking my infant in a carrier on the floor with my foot while staring intently at my laptop, typing away.

When work started giving out phones, I carried two like I was an on-call ER doctor whose all-hours accessibility could save lives. I tended to work after dinner, during late nights before bed, during middle-of-the-nights when I couldn’t sleep. I scheduled work over all my weekends (I can catch up!). I worked during vacations; up to, during, and right after family gatherings; planned my honeymoon around when would be best for work. I even worked when I was in work, often working two, or more, overlapping jobs.

Work was an eager lover I never said no to. A constant I could count on. I was good at working and I liked the way it made me feel: important, self-reliant, stable, strong. I worked as a safeguard against failure and financial ruin, to maintain a life station and status I’d hustled so hard to achieve, to keep up professional appearances, to hoard a bit of clout.

Above all else, overwork was a distraction that blotted out the dull but ambient emotional discomfort that was always there, a feeling of unworthiness that I’d been running from my entire life. Work made me feel like I was somebody other than the unlovable monster I was quite sure I was inside. It allowed me to feel that if I cosplayed long enough as a cool and competent professional, I could obliterate that monster for good.

I’d learned about work through systems of power. Capitalism taught me about work, and so did the patriarchy. Second-wave feminism taught me to dream of labor, as did the culture. The eighties movies about the women who could finally—and could not wait to—have it all. The magazine covers featuring businesswomen in sleek stilettos and neutral-toned skirt suits, fresh-faced toddlers peeking out of leather attaché cases, right by their sides. The commercials that told me I could bring home the bacon and fry it up for a man while also never letting that man forget he was, in fact, a man. As if any of this was even possible, as if any of us would ever forget.

But, more than from any other system of power, I learned work from my family. I did as I was taught and, above anything else in my childhood, in a myriad of indirect and direct ways, I was taught to work.

About The Author

Lee Jameson

Jennifer Romolini is the author of Weird in a World That’s Not, Ambition Monster, and is the host of the podcast Everything Is Fine. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Elle, Fast Company, Vogue, and many others.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Atria Books (July 4, 2024)
  • Length: 304 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781668056585

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Raves and Reviews

“Laudable…an entertaining and highly relatable account of the struggle to avenge the people we once were.” —The New York Times

“Addictive.” —Slate

“Fast-moving and dishy… Ambition Monster tells a tale of an overachiever who wore out her wheels pursuing success – and who finally looked up from her Outlook calendar and called it a night.” —The Guardian

“[An] intimate, intensely resonant memoir about workaholism, unresolved trauma, and the “addictive nature of ambition.” ­­—Harper’s Bazaar, Best Books of 2024

“Extremely compelling, packed with insight, humor, and radical candor... A superb reality check for anyone trying to climb the corporate ladder.” —Booklist

“Ambition Monster is perfect for people pleasers, overachievers and anyone whose trauma has driven them to push for success no matter the cost.” —Pure Wow

Ambition Monster is as hilarious as it is heart-wrenching. Through bad boyfriends, complicated coworkers, and just enough luck, Jennifer Romolini uses sharp sentences and vulnerability to tell the story of a life spent in hot pursuit of the love, validation, and the significance we all desire. Page after page, chapter after chapter, I found myself riding with Romolini down the rabbit hole of her successes, and often enough, right into the glaring light of her failures. Ambition Monster is a gift of storytelling, and an act of reclamation.” —Ashley C. Ford, New York Times bestselling author of Somebody’s Daughter

“Jennifer Romolini is a big-hearted, hilarious genius who has generously ripped her life open to let us pick at her scars, and we are luckier for it.” —Samantha Irby, New York Times bestselling author of Quietly Hostile, Wow, No Thank You, and We Are Never Meeting In Real Life

Ambition Monster grabbed me in its teeth and wouldn't let me go. Jennifer Romolini's memoir is propulsive and funny and human and wise all at once. It's rare to find a book that says such hard truths about work, money, and, yes, ambition. I devoured it, or maybe it devoured me.” —Claire Dederer, bestselling author of Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma

“An exquisitely written reckoning with our own career hunger: where it comes from, but also what it costs us. Ambition Monster is weird and funny and brutally honest in all of the best ways. If you find yourself on the other end of burnout, trying desperately to figure out a new way forward — wow, is this book for you.” —Anne Helen Petersen, author of Can't Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation

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