- An eager or strong desire to achieve something, such as fame or power.
- The object or goal desired: Her ambition is the presidency.
- Desire for exertion or activity; energy: had no ambition to go dancing.
[Middle English ambicioun, excessive desire for honor, power, or wealth, from Old French ambition, from Latin ambiti, ambitin-, from ambitus, past participle of ambre, to go around (for votes). See ambient.]
n 1: a cherished desire; “his ambition is to own his own business” [syn: aspiration, dream] 2: a strong drive for success [syn: ambitiousness] v : have as one’s ambition
I’ve been reflecting on the topic of ambition for quite some time now in my life, and trying to figure out my relationship to the word and concept. Some days I feel like I don’t have enough of it. Sometimes I feel like it’s overvalued. Other times I feel like I have plenty of ambition, but not enough drive to accomplish my goals, and yet other times I feel like I need to just pick a few things to accomplish, and get some sleep.
If you look at the roots of the word, it really does get to the heart of the matter — ‘excessive desire for honor, power, or wealth’. In our present-day culture, we are schizophrenic about our ethical stance on ambition, and I suppose part of my own personal struggle is just a microcosm of that same schizophrenia. On the one hand, we are sold the story of the American dream, and we are encouraged to foster our own ambitions. Our heroes are those who are the success stories of the free enterprise world. The inventors, the great scientists, the leaders of the modern era — these individuals took their ambition and refined it, used it as a laser-tool to carve out of reality the world they wished to live. Those who show ambition are seen to be ‘going somewhere’. Those who are lacking in ambition are ‘lazy’ and ‘stagnant’. So to be deficient in ambition is seen as a moral shortcoming, where being extremely ambitious and successful is the high water mark of moral correctness.
The other side of our society’s internal debate over ambition is the religious (Christian/Buddhist) and leftist ethical commitment to treading lightly on the planet, and not letting our ambition overwhelm our humanity. This is also reinforced with a general Californian attitude to ‘chill out’. By this ethical viewpoint, ambition causes not only personal discomfort and anxiety, but also drives individuals to forsake other ethical considerations for the ends of their own ambition. Being ‘ambitious’ and being ‘ruthless’ are very close together in this perspective, and divided by only a hair’s breadth. “To get into heaven for a rich man is as difficult as passing a camel through the eye of a needle” — J.H.C.’s own words.
It’s no wonder that our current society is all mixed up about its feelings around ambition. Add to this our ingrained self-doubt, and ambition seems to be something dangerous, that if held too tightly not only can cause damage to the world or to those in the way of that ambition, but more importantly, it can wreak havoc on our own ego and self-esteem, if our ambitions outstrip our capability to fulfill our goals.
So here I am, left holding the bag of my own intentions and my own shortcomings, weighed down with the content of my society and my own existential experience. Do I feel bad that I don’t have enough ambition to meet the goals I think I should accomplish, or do I feel bad that my desire for ambition is greater than my moral compass towards harmony. Or, do I just let it be and experience life as it comes upon me, not worrying about silly valuations such as ‘ambition’. Instead, to do what I want to do at the intensity that it strikes me to do it, and to do something that feels good only as long as it does. Is that it, walk the hedonist life? Hmmm… I’m sure some of you have the answer for yourselves. For me, the jury is still out.