“A lot of people by the time they get into their 40’s, have stopped falling for mother nature’s tyrannical little trick, which is, you’re finally gonna get that thing that you’ve always wanted – and it’s going to be endlessly satisfying until the end of your life.
After a while, you start saying – that’s not true! The new car smell isn’t gonna last. If I get that thing that I want in my career, if I invent that theorem, or get the patent, or get tenure, or become the greatest French horn player in the world, or whatever your thing is, that it’s actually not as satisfying as you think it’s going to be, and not for very long.”
– Arthur C. Brooks
Where Ambition Leads
Ambition is gasoline – neither good nor bad. Gasoline can power an ambulance that rushes someone to the hospital, or cause an explosion that does great harm.
Similarly, ambition can help someone contribute to the world, or become a millionaire with ten homes. These paths lead to wildly different outcomes with varying degrees of satisfaction and consequences for the world.
One thing seems inevitable: Over the course of one’s life – it becomes apparent that certain kinds of pursuits lead nowhere. Expectations are never fully met. Early in life, it feels that more and more leads to greater and greater levels of happiness. More things. More status. More love and sex. More respect. More responsibility. All fueled by ambition. And yet – there remains a persistent itch that refuses to be scratched.
Counterintuitively, halting the engine of pursuit and deeply studying the nature of desire, precipitates a sort of satisfaction that is profound and unusual and lasting.
This makes no sense… Endowed with a full tank of ambition – aren’t we supposed to work furiously to climb the mountain? And when we finally get to the top of the mountain, everything will be great?
Consider, there is no mountain. Consider that every moment of life is peak experience. Things are not destined to be AWESOME later. There are innumerable reasons they are awesome right now. Every second spent infatuating about a superior future is another second one might be missing everything that is already wonderful.
If we look very carefully at the physics of desire – to the precise moment when satisfaction actually arrives, we will notice it leaves as quickly as it comes, and there we are… anticipating the next thing, almost immediately.
Returning to the premise – Ambition is neither good nor bad.
If we can somehow manage to grasp we are ALREADY the luckiest we are ever going to be – right this minute – simply to be alive and healthy and experiencing – then everything else is bonus. We don’t need to use ambition like rocket fuel to get us to some even greater utopia.
Instead, ambition collaborates with love. Love for expression, love for curiosity, love for exploring, love for serving other people with an open mind and sharing an infinite range of potential experiences.
Ambition, wielded this way, is free to pursue with full vigor, while at the same time not being attached to specific outcomes. Operating from a place of fulfillment as opposed to a place of lack.
In sum, ambition is one of the greatest forces we will ever know. Towards what north star will we aim it? Where are we hoping our ambition will take us, and, based on empirical observation of personal experience, and all the little anecdotes and stories we might notice from others, how likely is it our destination is actually a mirage?
What happens when we put ambition on pause for a moment, and check if things are already OK? And if they aren’t, why?
“I found that things became a lot easier when I no longer expected to win. You abandon your masterpiece and you sink into the real masterpiece.”
– Leonard Cohen