All the Gold Stars

Reimagining Ambition and the Ways We Strive


By Rainesford Stauffer

Read by Jess Nahikian

Formats and Prices





  1. Audiobook Download (Unabridged) $24.99
  2. ebook $15.99 $20.99 CAD
  3. Hardcover $28.00 $35.00 CAD

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around June 6, 2023. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

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.


  • “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." 
    Nora McInerny
  • "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
  • “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
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    Praise for An Ordinary Age
  • "The quest for perfection and excellence has left us exhausted, pissed off, and bewildered.  If you want to turn away, at whatever point in your life, from the endless cycle of burnout, this beautifully written, endlessly empathetic book is for you."
    Anne Helen Petersen, author of Can't Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation
  • "A meticulous cartography of how outer forces shape young people’s inner lives."
    Esquire, Best Books of 2021
  • "Rainesford Stauffer is a brave writer who takes us to places that we haven't been yet, and gives us companionship when we're there. I'd love to hand out thousands of copies of this book. You will find comfort and empowerment in every chapter. An Ordinary Age is a gentle but urgent call to embrace the fullness of life, and that's a reminder we can use at any stage of life."
    Mari Andrew, author of Am I There Yet?

On Sale
Jun 6, 2023
Hachette Audio

Rainesford Stauffer

About the Author

Rainesford Stauffer is an author, journalist, speaker, and Kentuckian. She's the Work in Progress columnist for Teen Vogue, and wrote a column for Catapult, Gold Stars. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times, Scalawag, DAME Magazine, Vox, and other publications. She is the author of An Ordinary Age, and is a 2022-2023 Rosalynn Carter Fellow for Mental Health Journalism.

Learn more about this author