Ambition is a funny thing. When you’re young ambition is a marker of difference, individuating us from each other. The combination of self belief and forward trajectory is how difference is marked because there isn’t anything else: no achievements worth anything in the adult world, no substantial life experience at least none that we have the language to express, and no sense of failure to overcome and strikethrough. Ambition is the impetus, the momentum we construct as a platform from which we can dive into the world.
Later ambition can seem a little foolhardy, a pathetic cartoon of self over estimation. Mostly this cartoon is kept quietly under lock and key, revealed only as an indicator of the scale with which we had once imagined ourselves. I suppose this is like a family story about Great Grandad owning all the land to the west of the river and how Grandad sold the land and bred horses to no good effect and the family fortunes have been modest ever since.
Ambitions generally get smaller, cultured in the living and matured in the practice, and shaped to fit the life that plays out over time. The act of getting smaller is also something we keep to ourselves. No one wants to admit to something mouse-like about how we choose and live, choosing safety and comfort over challenge and anguish, taking paths of least resistance toward the sofa. It looks, and feels, like we’re adjusting our understanding of ourselves, figuring out that we’re not going to reach the vaulted heights we thought and to lower our sights and recognise we’re not as fast as Usain Bolt, or as smart as Stephen Hawking, or as cool as Kim Deal, or as beautiful as Aishwarya Rai. But this is the wrong end of the stick.
Actually what we’re adjusting is our understanding of the world, we’re entering new data and the clarity of our view grows with every passing day. It becomes clear from all we learn about the world and being in it that we are simply who we are and that the job, or the size of the fish, or the make of the car, or the grace of our cheekbones, or the speed of our 5K doesn’t matter in the slightest. The platform from which we jumped stops being relevant, the momentum we used when we jumped stops providing go-forward, and ambition is a tether to an egocentric and immature iteration of ourselves.
Some people I’ve noticed hang on to that vision, as if the purity of their self image drives them ever forward toward those greater destinies. I kind of admire those who can manage this trick but I pity them too ‘cause there is no chance to refresh that vision of self. There’s no chance to value what is, only what isn’t, the ever beckoning yet-to-be.
A friend asked me the other day what happened to my ambition. I didn’t know that day but I do now. What happened to my ambition? I realised it.