Ambition is a dirty word isn’t it? Its gotten a pretty bad press over the years, Shakespeare definitely portrayed ambition a destroyer of our moral compasses and seemed the defining theme in King Lear, Macbeth, Richard III, Hamlet and many more of his works. Some of the more colourful Christian traditions refer to ambition as “The mother of all Heresies”. I think this a little small minded as Shakespeare obviously had aspirations to become a great playwright and the Christian faith demands a great deal of spiritual ambition that they themselves admit is far beyond reach of most human beings. Yet in pursuing their goals they are neither immoral agents nor reaped immoral gain and yet garnered a great deal of happiness from what they achieved.
Ambition gets a rough ride because people assume that in order to get what we want we need to be selfish, or that goals themselves are inherently self-centered. I think for many people this might actually be the case, but if we deconstruct and bring in our old friend self-analysis maybe we can reach a consensus on how might be a little more Shakespeare and a little less Fred Goodwin.
Before I get into the problems facing the modern ambitious animal I think it important to separate ambition into two broad areas 1) What we want 2) How we get it. I think the key to unlocking a guide lays in understanding the Ethics behind what we want. Having immoral goals will not serve us unless we completely kill off our empathy for other human beings, Whereas having moral goals defeats their value if we pursue them through immoral means. A good example is someone who wants to be a doctor to be wealthy, but struggles against those who want to be a doctor for the love of the art of healing. When finally becoming a doctor he maybe wealthy but if hates being around sick people, or is unable to deal with people dying or just finds the job depressing then he may have achieved his ambitions but is unlikely to find happiness there. I think the ideal solution is in reconciling our ambitions with our ethics, to strive to be morally ambitious.
It might sound like lofty idea but if we feel good about what we want and how we choose to pursue it, the motivation we have for it will never be questioned and the results can carry a great emotional reward which is likely to outlive the lifespan of any transient financial success. I think before we get lost on the highway to self-knowledge some signposting will be required to prevent us getting lost along the way.
First I’d like to identify problems of the modern age and how with greater opportunities makes it more difficult to identify what it is we desire and sells us the idea of ‘false ambition’ at almost every turn. I want to look at something that is difficult for us all to accept and that a more pragmatic view of ourselves and our goals and how this is better way of understanding what we are capable of and what we are likely to achieve. This isn’t necessarily a depressing vision and would like to finish reflecting on what we are capable of isn’t static and how personal development increases our capacity to succeed and even don’t we don’t fulfil our ambitions, if we work on being better in what we love doing that in itself carries a great deal of worth.