The downside to ambition
It was getting dark outside but I didn’t care. I had to figure out the chaos in my mind, and I knew a long unrushed walk would do the trick. I had been feeling consistently unhappy for some time and I just didn’t know why. I’m what you would call a ‘cheerful chap’. I try not to take life too seriously and I usually spend half my day laughing. Even the most remotely funny joke can send be bursting into tears. (Yup, I’m that kinda guy… and it goes without saying that I find that the best jokes are often my own…) But of late my world had been a little less than humorous. The spark of joy seemed to be dwindling.
As I strolled through the dim and seemingly deserted streets, it started becoming apparent to me. The only thing that had been on my mind for the past few months was my business, my financial goals and my self-imposed financial deadlines. I had been working aggressively on a few new business ventures and making good progress too but the momentum had suddenly slowed down and things just weren’t moving as fast as I had hoped. Declined proposals, unanswered phone calls, ‘unreplied emails’ (you know, basically the stuff they tell you to expect in ‘Entrepreneurship for Dummies’) It’s not the first time I’d experienced disappointment, but it certainly felt like the first time I had allowed my goals completely take over my mind. I had almost allowed myself to become a prisoner of my own ambition and it was draining me.
Here’s my notion on ambition…
The dangerous thing about ambition is that it sometimes requires us to disengage with the present moment. Ambition often asks us to be discontent with our current circumstance and long for more, for better, for greater. One of our greatest temptations as human beings is to live anywhere except in the present moment. We often get sucked up into the realm of our minds, a place where we have the comfort of control and certainty. There we can imagine a bright future for ourselves, one that’s better than our current circumstance. It’s a place where we can imagine billions in our bank account, where we can visit our dream holiday destination, own the latest Ferrari. It’s a place where I may or may not have imagined myself a few feet taller, and with a nice set of abs (I can neither confirm nor deny). In our minds, we can undo poor decisions, relive great memories, author stories in which we are the hero. I don’t blame us for it, life can be hard and sometimes existence can be painfully exhausting. Escaping the present almost becomes therapeutic.
There is nothing wrong with dreams and goals, and there is certainly nothing wrong with a little imagination. (What would life be without it?) The problem, however, arises when these become our ‘permanent residence’. When we set up camp there and abandon the life that is right in front of us. When we live our lives so focused on the future (or maybe the past) that we start losing touch with what’s going on around us.
“We cannot be truly be happy, until we are reconciled with the present”
Here’s the unavoidable truth….Life can only be lived in the present moment. In fact, I’d go as far as to say life is only the present moment. The way I see it, both the future and the past exist only in our minds. The future as dreams, goals, desires, aspirations, projections.. and the past mostly as memories. Reality is what’s in the here and now, right in front of us. I find that my happiest moments in life are those when I am at peace with the present. Where I allow myself to be one with the moment and enjoy what life is presenting to me. It is almost as if nothing else matters and I am suddenly filled with the gratitude of merely being alive.
This is not a post against having ambition. And I’m not saying it’s impossible to be both ambitious and live in the present (I salute those who manage to maintain this ever so elusive state) What I am saying is that our ambition, if left unchecked, can rob us from the joy of being present and simply living. As my second grade English teacher would say, “we can’t have that now can we?!”