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Observing Alex

Essays and poems on life, aesthetic, and society

December 22, 2019

Thoughts on Ambition

I generally think that having ambition is a positive trait. As a society, we praise ambitious people, and we use their stories to inspire us to work harder toward our goals. However, ambition is a nuanced trait and typically manifests in one of two forms: specific or general.

Specific ambition is what you see in professional athletes; when an individual has a particular “thing”, or set of things, that drive them.

General ambition, on the other hand, is not restricted by one’s interest in their work. Instead, general ambition is fueled by a desire to do good work.

I find it easier to cultivate general ambition when we feel uncertain about our futures. Of course, we’re never certain about our futures. But when we become aware of this reality, we tend to start running and hope that, when we finish, it was for a good cause. This habit is problematic because working hard and without purpose can lead to burnout and loss of desire.

Ambition must then be driven by intrinsic desire, but this brings us to the issue with specific ambition.

The primary fault with specific ambition is that you are putting all of your eggs in one basket. This would theoretically be okay if passion was your only motivation, however, that situation is impossible because every living being also must factor in the work required to live. This is where college students debate whether to explore different fields or focus on what can make them money.

If one chooses to specialize too intensely, they risk that role shifting in value and not being able to maintain the lifestyle they want. And while reeducation is possible, it is difficult to change fields when you have only ever focused on one thing in your life. It’s always possible to change, it’s just difficult.

It seems like the ideal condition is one where ambition is recognized as an essential quality insofar it is paired with general curiosity and a frontier ethos.