Ms. Spiers is a writer and digital media strategist. She was the editor in chief of The New York Observer, and the founding editor of Gawker.
In a December New Yorker profile of the actor Jeremy Strong, who plays Kendall Roy on the HBO show “Succession,” colleagues, friends and classmates painted him as a person who, in internet-speak, “has no chill.” His intense and sometimes extreme devotion to his craft was extensively documented and skewered.
One critique particularly stood out to me when I read it. A classmate of Mr. Strong’s at Yale, where he studied with financial aid, said, “I’d never met anyone else at Yale with that careerist drive.”
In this respect, the version of Mr. Strong in the profile felt very relatable. Like me, he grew up working class: He was the son of a juvenile jail employee and a hospice nurse in Massachusetts. My dad was a local lineman for a utilities company in Alabama, and my mom worked at my school, first as a janitor, then later as a lunch lady in the cafeteria. I also went to a fancy college on enough financial aid to rival the G.D.P. of a small European country. I have felt dismissed at times as an ambitious striver, or because I wasn’t an obvious fit in a room full of wealthy, overeducated people, with my rednecky accent and teeth unmolested by modern orthodontics. My freshman year at Duke University, a lacrosse player coming from a prestigious boarding school overheard me talking and asked, “Where the [expletive] are you from?” It was clear that he wasn’t just asking for a geographic location.
There’s an unmistakably negative connotation to the word “careerist.” It is a dismissive insult often deployed against people who have the temerity to transcend their economic class. Every time I’ve heard it used, it has been by someone who has enough privilege that needing to work and worrying about advancement are alien experiences. The target is generally someone like Mr. Strong, whose path to success was long and difficult, and sometimes involved extreme displays of devotion to his craft. (As recounted in the New Yorker profile, Mr. Strong once drove to Canada as Daniel Day-Lewis’s assistant on a film shoot, the great actor’s prop mandolin strapped into the passenger seat like he was “guarding a relic.”)