Sunday, August 29, 2010

297) thoughts on ambition

the literary life 8/29/30

I've been thinking this week about ambition because this summer's been one long struggle with personal ambition. defines ambition as "an earnest desire for some type of achievement or distinction, as power, honor, fame, or wealth, and the willingness to strive for its attainment." This sounds good in theory. Isn't life about finding one's passion and then pursing it with devotion--to strive to attain something one desires seems universally human. So why have I been thinking about this lately?

I've been thinking about this because I don't feel as ambitious as I once did. This has concerned me. Maybe it's part of the aging process or maybe it's a consequence of life experience or maybe I need to be eating more chocolate or something. All I can say is that I feel less ambitious, and it's a new feeling, so it feels like an adjustment. At first I thought I was feeling down, but now I'm sure it's just a mental shift of some sort. It's not that I don't want things and I don't appreciate the experience of success. I do. And I want to write and publish poems; I want to teach, to be speak my truth, to be liked, and to fit in. There's so much I want. But it doesn't feel like ambition. Maybe it once did.

Ambition, I think, has a competitive edge to it. Ambition is something more than desire--it might be a graver attachment to outcomes, to reputation. It seems more calculated. I've grown to see it as superficial. I mean, I want superficial things, like better shoes, but I guess what I'm saying is that it's possible to have desire without excessive attachment to desire. It is possible to embrace goals without feeling driven to succeed. If I feel driven, I feel the drive to be less driven. And it's a peculiar feeling.

I'm less performance focused and more mastery focused. I want to be a better writer so I can be intimate with beauty, for the pleasure of giving something my practiced attention. I also want to master reading more for the same reason. I think now of Shakespeare's play, Julius Caesar. Brutus claimed that he slew Caesar because Caesar was ambitious. Noble Brutus claimed to be more concerned with the greater good of Rome than his own prestige. Perhaps we all have a Caesar and Brutus inside of us--the part of us that seeks power and the part that wants to do the right thing. Both Caesar and Brutus were guilty of attaching too much and both met tragic ends. Both were coerced by something--be it an internal weakness or an external conspiracy. Both suffered.

If ambition worked, it's end result would bring joy and happiness. But often it brings more hurdles, more problems, more unease. I realize this is what I'm getting at: I used to think being ambitious would lead to happiness. Now I find that happiness is less about "success" in an ambition and more about being true to the moment. All summer long, my inner Brutus and Caesar have been at odds with each other. I think, should I go after glory or work to achieve global good? Both are, in the end, ambitious goals. Maybe what I've wanted is to give myself the space to embrace my own little happiness. How radical of me. How ridiculous. It's laughter I'm after. It's permission.


  1. Mazo,my dearest i enjoy every word that you write, thank you for introducting me to your blog.Just read ,'Thoughts on Ambition',it is so nicely written. you know 'healthy ambition' is a must and it never dies,age is no barrier ,it's the thought and state of mind. I feel i am still ambitious and only the approach changes. we get more committed as we age, more refined, more graceful and in that we work harder ,more silently pursue our goals and take our time for the results. It is this struggle of ours to achieve our dreams and goals that makes us successful in life, Live long and enjoy,this is what i'm, doing and that's my driving force. love Faiza khala

  2. Faiza khala, I'm so glad you posted this! I love what you say about "more graceful" ambition. I think that is what I was after in this post--not that ambition is all bad--just that too much ambition might, ironically, be a source of suffering. I like the idea of a ambition with grace. This is something I would like to cultivate. love, mehnaz