31 Jan Ambition is Bad For You!
Would you drink corrosive acid? Then why harbor ambition?
I heard of Horatio Alger long before I came to America. My father gave me a book titled ‘Lives of Poor Boys Who Become Famous’ and one of his friends commented that they were real Horatio Alger stories.
Later, I read many Horatio Alger stories. One of them – In a New World – is still on my shelf.
The stories are mostly about teenage boys who, born into poverty but nevertheless made it to fame and fortune by dint of hard work, luck, and driving ambition.
I have heard many a business leader say they look for ambitious youngsters and many a politician who cites lack of ambition as the reason the destitute remain so.
What about you?
Are you ambitious? Do you regard ambition as an admirable virtue? Do you wish you had more?
Most importantly, do you wish you were like some person who had tremendous ambition and reached some high position?
This is the fool’s journey that our society sends us on.
The dictionary definition of ambition is “an earnest desire for some type of achievement or distinction as power, honor, fame or wealth and the willingness to strive for its attainment”.
And there is the nub.
When you are ambitious, you live for the future and in a future that may or may not come.
And even if it does come, it is not what you expected and will never give you the joy and peace and well-being that you think it will.
Abd-ar-Rahman III, the Caliph of Cordoba, in the days when it was a flourishing city with dozens of libraries while London and Paris were both overgrown hovels ruminated thus:
“I have now reigned above fifty years in victory or peace; beloved by my subjects, dreaded by my enemies, and respected by my allies. Riches and honours, power and pleasure, have waited on my call, nor does any earthly blessing appear to have been wanting to my felicity. In this situation, I have diligently numbered the days of pure and genuine happiness which have fallen to my lot: they amount to Fourteen: – O man! place not thy confidence in this present world!”
I frequently get pushback when I advocate giving up ambition.
“Why should I get up in the morning if I don’t have ambition? How will anything change in the world, how will any improvement happen if not for ambitious persons who make things happen and will not rest till they achieve their goals?” they say.
Before I answer this, spend a moment in reflection.
Ambition, by definition, makes you unhappy with your lot. It sows the seed of despair and, with it, the notion that ‘tomorrow will be better if I get whatever my ambition leads me to desire.’
Pay heed to the words of Abd-ar-Rahman.
Tomorrow will not be better. Nor the day after. And this has nothing to do with the toys you acquire or the power you wrest. It is just the nature of desire and the way it is whipped into unrest by your monkey mind.
Gain comes from the effort you put into attaining it.
Have a grand vision and work towards it because that is your path in life. It is not ambition because you fully recognize that your reward does not lie in achieving whatever you set out to do.
Your gain comes from the effort you put into attaining it. That is what produces the change in you that is a true blessing.
Accept that it is wonderful if you achieve your goal, but no problem if you do not. On this road, you will always win.
Think about it.
One final note. You may agree with what I have just said, but you will not be able to give up ambition.
Ambition has to give you up.
If this does not make sense to you, be patient. I will elaborate on it in a future post.