How Is Yours Holding Up?
Ambition is a complex word… it embodies an intangible; there is something of the night in its attribution – as if to find it in your DNA is to have discovered a defective gene in your mental make-up. This is less about the presence of ambition but more about the actions laid at its door. In contrast the word also crystallises the cold, clear-eyed stare of daytime positivity – moving from B to A socially speaking – as well as the physical moving from the suburbs to the big city in pursuit of the dream.
Don’t have it and you can be castigated as living life in the slow dull lane. Have an overwhelming desire or simply a loose awareness just to be happy – as if it’s that easy – and it’s perversely more of a sign of lack of ambition than someone who declares they have none.
There you go pootling along by the hard shoulder with your brain in neutral and little concept of the accelerator when you could be swimming with the sharks in the cut and thrust of the outside lane. At its worst ambition is selfish: letting nothing stand in your way – the personification of an empty vessel swilling with the connotations of greed and monetary gain. But neither are mutually exclusive.
“What’s your ambition?”
It’s a favourite question of lazy job interviewers: they ask as if it infers that having met your shiny face for a few minutes – the fifteenth of a busy day – that they can actually read if you are psychologically-suited for their client’s company. It’s usually allied to the prediction game of where you see yourself in a few years career wise. A right answer in the context of the job might suggest a plan but conveniently forgets the constant negotiation at the heart of ambition. It also presents a rigidity of purpose at odds with popular notions of flexibility and self-awareness.
Ambition changes with age. At school we can all remember the constant prompts as to what you want to do when you grow up. It was all so simple then: you want – you get. However, much like everything else in subsequent life it’s a process of downscaling to something you can live with; or feasibly attain – or a series of self-defeating compromises to have sufficient motivation to keep going out the door at seven every morning to that most mundane of jobs.
There are always some in the class who don’t want to be a footballer, an X-factor pop star or an astronaut – not even everyday jobs with some perceived childhood idea of excitement and glamour such as a fireman, a policeman, a hairdresser or a train driver. Maybe they want to be a storeman just like Dad… if so these are marked out instantly as the low achievers – forget the qualities of respect or the obvious love of family. These kids obviously do not have the will of ambition to bang their head against the expectations of a high-powered role.
Maybe it’s the am of the first syllable that predetermines the psychological pit of ambition. It’s what I am – or rather what I want to be – comprised of expectation; identity perceived; a distillation of hope; self-respect… all exquisitely balanced on a precipice of personal dreams.
More Than Seventy Per Cent…
That more than seventy per cent of people in a recent poll disliked their job is testament to either how outlandish or inherently unrealistic their dreams are – or just how god-awful soul-destroying it is sitting back and letting someone else satisfy their ambition; their drive to make money at your expense.
Blunted ambition is a sad spectacle and it happens for a multitude of reasons way beyond just letting someone else drive the bus. Mac jobs; minimum wage; zero hours; temporary; no benefits work barely constitutes anyone breathing the C(areer) word in adult company. It’s ironic that so many of these tenuous positions have ingrained practices and at the baldest level necessitate buying into the philosophy of an overbearing rictus-grinned company mission statement. It’s like society’s revenge… a torture for daring to hold all those unrealistic pop star choices in the first place.
That tyrannical uniformity and easy come easy go employment go hand-in-hand with crushing individual spirit is no great shock. It’s a first defining lesson for most people. It does raise important personal questions if little interest in the drive to economic advantage. Are those who retain their ambition a triumph of spirit or just horribly self-deluded?
How long do you hold on to a dream? And if you do… how long is really good for you? If you doggedly hang on for grim death – if not physical then almost certainly a form of death or decline internally – does that make living the rest of life just a process of filling in the gaps? Does your lack of an ambition fulfilled render your existence – as John Lennon once said – something that happens while you make plans? A distinctly poor relation to what is in your head? Is to give up on your dreams to give up on life itself or at least a valuable psychological safety valve?
The questions are hard and are ones we all grapple with at some time as befits something that is so intensely personal and painful. Compromise is never easy – let alone a compromise with yourself as much as external forces or another individual. It all seems a long way from those shiny I can do anything playground boasts. Sometimes you should be careful exactly what you wish for. But hindsight is an easy laid trap where ambition is concerned.
When does an ambition become a liability or a curse? I started this off so where do I finish?
“I’m looking for a place to do good creative work in a responsive environment…”
Doesn’t exactly sound much of an ambition – does it? It certainly doesn’t suggest all the compromises, reflections, self-confrontation and reality checks along the way. But it is still an ambition. Need convincing? Just ask the other seventy per cent.