What is ambition?
When I think of ambition, I see someone fighting tooth and nail to get to the top of their career ladder… and to be honest, that’s not me.
When I think of ambition, I imagine an athlete, struggling to stay ahead of their peers, striving for Olympic gold… and to be honest, that’s not me.
When I think of ambition, I picture a work-a-holic father, shutting out his family and surviving on toast and beans in his desire for success… and to be honest, that’s not me.
And yet, I’ve come to realise over the years that ambition can take different forms. Or perhaps what I am about to describe is not ambition exactly – and yet ambition is the best word I’ve found so far to describe it.
Being unable to sleep at night because the ideas keep coming. I could do this, and that, and this again… that’s me.
Having the insatiable urge to develop a project to its completion if I’m passionate about it. ‘What if’ or ‘could do’ becoming ‘can do’ or ‘will do’… that’s me.
Seeing an idea and immediately starting to research, read all the available literature, break it into steps with self-imposed goals, deadlines and evaluations… that’s me.
Perhaps I’m exaggerating. But perhaps I’m not. Let me clarify: this is not me ALL the time… but it is definitely me some of the time.
And it’s exhausting.
And it’s exhilarating.
And it can mean I don’t love others – but it can also mean I love others better and more thoroughly.
A while ago I read a book about Christian productivity, and one line in particular stood out to me. “There’s nothing wrong with ambition, as long as the ambition is to love others and do good for God.” (paraphrased).
I really struggled with that. Because my dreams, my plans… well, I find them exciting in themselves. I don’t cold-bloodedly sit down and make a list of all the good that I could do, and mark out deadlines and to-do lists. Instead I toss and turn, burning with the drive to write, to speak, to embrace passions.
Does that make my ambition wrong?
The second problem
Aside from the motive behind my ambition, the reality is that having plans and projects and dreams is tiring. You see, I am passionate about a lot of different things, and I can’t possibly explore all possibilities at once. Often I don’t even want to! But when the drive comes on me, often at an extremely inconvenient time, I tear at the bit, wanting to do and do and do. And the linearity of time simply won’t allow me to do that.
Which is frustrating. And somewhat stressful (even if it’s an enjoyable stress).
I don’t have a nice, neat pre-packaged answer to this problem I struggle with. And I’m aware that even attempting to unravel such an issue makes me seem pretentious and stuck-up at worse, and mildly ridiculous at best.
Nevertheless, here is what I do:
I rue the fact that perhaps my plans may not start with a desire for God’s kingdom, but I pray that they will align to it. I pray that they will bless people and I look for ways to serve people with my projects and my passions.
I try and remember what’s important. God gave my passions for a reason and a purpose, and so I can pursue them under Him without guilt – but that does not change the fact that People Trump Projects. One kind word to my family is worth more than four hours of work on a novel.
I strive to hold ambition lightly. In laying out each of my projects before God, I practice relinquishing them into His hands. I pray: if this doesn’t work, may my joy still be in You. If that falls through, may my heart be satisfied in You.
I seek to rely on His strength, and not my own. I can’t possibly do everything, and as a finite, created Creature, I need to rest. And it does not demonstrate dependence on God if I fail to live out these realities. And so I pray for peace and freedom from frustration. I take rests and practice being flexible, and it doesn’t always work, but I try. When a new idea comes and I have no time, I ask for grace to trust that if He wants it to happen, it will.
I try and work hard when I have the time. God has given me the ability and the passion to pursue certain things, and the way I pursue them can bring Him just as much glory as the completion of them. And so I remind myself that there’s nothing mundane about plodding along, working bit by bit, because God is a long-term God who took thousands of years to bring His Son into the world, and is taking thousands more to build His church.
I pray that I will meet someone who struggles with the same problems, who is wise and can point me to Christ. And I pray also that if God never brings such a friend to help me, then perhaps one day he will use me to help others.
An end of the matter
So am I ambitious? Or is this just the idealism of youth? Is ambition worthwhile? I have so much to learn, and I don’t have answers, but this I know: God uses all things and wastes none of them. And so I praise Him, and I live.