The other day a friend commented that a third, mutual friend “has the ambition of a…” something. A rock? A slug? The point being that this person is sadly lacking in an important trait to which everyone should aspire. I nodded with one of those tight-lipped smiles that indicate a knowing, yet rueful, agreement. But later it occurred to me that our ambition-deficient friend is someone who seems pretty happy and content with her life, and whom I have always admired for her easy-going, laid-back disposition and approach to living. It further occurred to me that perhaps the ruefulness in my agreement was really a sense of shame. Because – and I’m just going to go ahead and say this – I have no ambition either. There. Now you know.
That’s not to say I’m as easy-going as our “sluggish” friend. In fact, most people who know me would agree that I’m pretty much the opposite of easy-going. I like structure. I like control. I like plans. But I don’t like making the plans. Ambitious people make plans. Control freaks like me just want to know that there is a plan.
It’s not that I think having ambition is bad. Some of my best friends are ambitious. The original friend who made the slug comment is one of the most ambitious people I know. And I admire those people. Sometimes I even envy them because they seem to know what they want and how to get it. And they get so much done! But what is ambition? Is it different from motivation? Is it just another word for hard work? Is it a trait you’re born with, like eye color, or something you can acquire or achieve? And most importantly, should I be concerned that I don’t have it?
So I started talking about this with people I respect and I even did a Google search for “What is ambition?” That query rendered over 62,300,000 results, so apparently it’s something a fair number of people have at least wondered about. But after spending some time considering the issue, I’ve come to the conclusion that I really don’t care enough to put more energy into figuring it out, which is what as an ambitious person would probably do. Instead I decided that at this point in my life, I’m not likely to make a dramatic change in how I approach life. For better or worse, I’m not going to become an ambitious player at this stage of the game.
Maybe the best I can hope for is to be more like my unambitious friend who seems to like herself exactly as she is. Maybe I can aspire to accept that, in the words of the immortal philosopher Popeye the Sailor Man, “I yam what I yam” and be okay with that. And maybe that’s a pretty lofty ambition after all.
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