All the Gold Stars: Reimagining Ambition and the Ways We Strive
From journalist and author of An Ordinary Age, an examination, dismantling, and reconstruction of ambition, where burnout is the symptom of our holiest sin: the lonely way we strive.
Ambition—the want, the hunger, the need to achieve—is woven into America’s fabric from the first colonization to capitalism. From our first gold star assignment to acceptance at the “right” college to hustle and grinding our lives, we celebrate our drive, even as we gatekeep who is permitted to strive--and how visibly. Even as we burn out. When we can’t even. When we know: work won’t love us back.
All the Gold Stars looks at how the cultural, personal, and societal expectations around ambition are driving the burnout epidemic by funneling our worth into productivity, limiting our imaginations, and pushing us further apart. Through the devastating personal narrative of her own ambition crisis, Stauffer discovers the common factors driving us all, peeling back layers of family expectations, capitalism, and self-esteem that dangerously tie up our worth in our output. Interviews with students, parents, workers, psychologists, labor organizers, and more offer a new definition of ambition and the tools to reframe our lives around true success. All the Gold Stars provides ways for us to reject our current reality and reconceive ambition as more collective, imaginative, and rooted in caring for ourselves and each other.
Praise for All the Gold Stars: Reimagining Ambition and the Ways We Strive
* Winner of the Porchlight Business Book Award for Personal Development * A Next Big Idea Club Must-Read pick * Badass Women's Book Club September Pick * One of Electric Lit's Best Nonfiction of 2023 *
“If you've been doing ‘everything right’ for as long as you can remember, and can't quite figure out why you're so exhausted, or bored, or unmotivated, or just over it—this book will change your life. Rainesford Stauffer gives us permission—and the language!—to imagine a different way forward.”
—Anne Helen Petersen, author of Can't Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation
"In All the Gold Stars, Rainesford Stauffer looks at our societal conversations around ambition and success for young people, and deftly unravels the myriad of ways those conversations preach a cruel and unyielding message to the inheritors of this society: deny the limits of your humanity to get ahead. Stauffer speaks with those deeply affected by this warped messaging, and writes a new narrative for us. One that includes an acknowledgement of our humanness, our need for play, and a more compassionate path to a better future. Read this book, and expand your imagination beyond what is, and toward what could be."
—Ashley C. Ford, Writer and Host
"All the Gold Stars is a probing, challenging, and deeply thoughtful exploration of what it means to find compassion for ourselves and pursue the lives we want without self-punishment. Drawing on her own experiences as well as dozens of interviews, Rainesford Stauffer writes with both clarity and care, considering the function and purpose of ambition from multiple angles while inviting readers to imagine how it may be redirected to aid and nourish us and our communities. If you, like so many born or made strivers, are engaged in the work of reevaluating your relationship to ambition and achievement, this is a wonderful book to keep you company as you do so."—Nicole Chung, author of A Living Remedy
“As a firstborn daughter (read: recovering perfectionist), self-employed writer, and mother, I needed to read this very book at this very moment. All the Gold Stars, ironically, is a brilliant achievement.”—Maggie Smith, author of You Could Make This Place Beautiful and Keep Moving
“A timely, important literary reckoning with the toll ambition takes on all of all of us, and how to reclaim our fire and fortitude in an age of burnout.”—Amber Tamblyn, author of Listening in the Dark: Reclaiming the Power of Women's Intuition
“All the Gold Stars is a lively read about a little-discussed problem that's leaving millions of us exhausted and unhappy: Americans work far too hard, far more hours than workers in other wealthy nations. With insightful analysis and excellent examples, Rainsford Stauffer explains the two main reasons why we work so much. First, forever seeking the next gold star, Americans push themselves too hard in their quest for more money and success. Second, too many companies push their workers too hard and demand too much as they seek to maximize their profits. This book sounds an important alarm—it's time to work less and enjoy life more.”—Steven Greenhouse, author of Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor
"As a chronic seeker of external validation and a collector of gold stars since kindergarten, this book was a balm for my weary, approval-seeking soul. Rainesford Stauffer has a rare gift for blending rigorous research and journalism with tender and empathetic storytelling. This is a must-read for try-hards, strivers, and other ambitious people whose candle has burnt out on both ends."
“This book will pull you in completely, love you well, change your brain and your life.”—Hannah Matthews, author of You or Someone You Love
“Rainesford is one of (if not the) leading voices on rethinking ambition. In this book, she dives… [in] nuanced and compassionate ways…. She explores what it might look like to be ambitious outside of work, and the many forms that could take.”—Alisha Ramos, founder of Girls Night In/Downtime
"Our Sunday Paper Recommended Reading this week is single-handedly changing the way we view our society’s endless need to achieve. In All the Gold Stars, journalist and author Rainesford Stauffer challenges conventional ideas and expectations around ambition and seeks to understand why so many of us break ourselves against the need to do more. Her writing is a clarion call to move away from ways that are hurting us and toward a way of life that puts emphatic energy toward healing, care, and community."—Maria Shriver's Sunday Paper
“If you’re burnt out, exhausted, or just treading water…might I recommend a book that will interrogate your (and society’s) views on ambition and careers?”—Jezebel
"Everything in [this] book connects the personal, the political, and the structural....[Stauffer] gives the reader a lot of inspiration...[providing] ideas and hope and direction in how we think about the insidiousness of the [capitalist] philosophy in the United States, how we go forward with other people."—Yes! Magazine
“All the Gold Stars is a deeply personal journey through [Stauffer’s] own struggles with ambition and health, and losing both, but it is as much a dissection of the conception, history, and current incarnation of ambition in our society. It uncovers the individualistic and isolating nature of it, and the Sisyphean task that it inevitably becomes….[Stauffer] has continued writing and blessed us with this new book.”—Porchlight Books, Editor’s Choice
“The author calls for a wholesale reimagining of ambition: rather than adopting a go-it-alone attitude, readers should assign greater value to relationships and friendships, as true success can’t be achieved solo. Stauffer is most convincing when she explores the intersection of ambition and injustice, as when she trenchantly critiques the ways student loans and academic tracking systems such as Advanced Placement classes reinforce racial inequalities....Stauffer takes on a fascinating social question.”—Publishers Weekly
“A clever, informative, even—dare I say—life-altering twist amongst…self-help books, All the Gold Stars is journalist Rainesford Stauffer’s guide (and plea) to help us come to terms with reality: Work will not love us back. Ambition is a, not the, motivator. And ‘success; will never be enough. Perhaps we know these things intuitively, but Stauffer’s well-articulated anecdotes and arguments pave the path for real, lasting recognition of their truth.”
**An Elle Best New Book to Read In Summer 2023**—Elle
"Jess Nahikian's voice sounds assured, comfortable, and clear, but her real achievement is how well her performance connects with this author's thoughtful perspectives and desire to help....The audiobook is a calm but persistent plea for people to resist societal messages that we should hustle more and never be satisfied with our accomplishments....Stauffer argues against this kind of relentless ambition with a pleasing blend of richly detailed research and her own career experiences fighting such pressure. With the help of Nahikian's comfortable speaking style and support of the author's intentions, this audiobook is one that will make many listeners take a hard look at overly ambitious lifestyles that don't allow room for imagination, joy, or healthy relationships."—AudioFile Earphones Award Winner (audiobook)
“By asking hard questions, she encourages readers to evaluate our own relationships with ambition so that we can reach our goals in a healthier way."—The Story Exchange
“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. 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.”—Library Journal (starred)