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Is Lack of Ambition A Sign of Weakness?

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The answer to this question has often frightened me. Instead of being ambitious are most of us simply survivors? Must we strive for what we are most capable of or are we only capable of striving when we must. Is it OK to prefer low lying fruit because minimum effort is required, or does it instead define the quality of our lives?

Ambition is described as an earnest desire for some type of achievement or distinction and the willingness to strive for its attainment. What does it mean if you have no such desires? What if you don’t want to be a parent or open your own business or climb Mount Everest? Should we be made to feel guilty if we have no earnest desire to keep up with the Joneses? Are we less-than as a result?

When we were kids my dad would often promise to take us out on the weekend but when the moment arrived he didn’t. Eventually I learned not to get my hopes up and in doing so I stumbled across a very liberating life lesson; without expectation there can be no disappointment.

There is an expectation that what we perceive as an abundance of talent or resources should be used to its maximum potential, otherwise we regard it as a waste and disappointment. One example would be the perceived wasted potential of a talented neighborhood basketball player that never tries out for a professional team. Ambition is seen as a way of realizing that potential. Lack of ambition is seen as wasting it.

There is something about purpose, effort and achievement that is very gratifying to us. It doesn’t matter if we are painting the next Michelangelo masterpiece or responsible for mopping the museum where the painting is held. Purpose makes us feel useful, desired and necessary. We often feel lost without a sense of purpose.

But is this demand for us to be ambitious innate or learned? And what about purpose? When these are missing in our lives, do we only feel disappointment because they are expected by others, or do we expect them from ourselves at birth?

Curiously, there seems to be a disconnect between our desire and demand for the presence of ambition in others versus the way the world performs collectively. Most people it appears, do only what they must, and only when they must. Look no further than minimum credit card payments or school grades.

We look for the lowest acceptable line and aim for that on average. I often wonder how many parents that scream at their kids to do their homework on time and with high marks, actually took their own homework seriously when they were students. We often complain of a lack of resources like money but if the cable tv service is ever cut off, strong desire kicks in momentarily to somehow find the funds to get it restored.

So is lack of ambition really a sign of weakness? I would first say that it is important that we are referring to your own desires, instead of those forced upon you by others. If my family wants me to go to medical school and become a doctor, that is their desire, not mine. It would be foolish to live your life trying to fulfill the desires that others have of you instead of your own, after all it is your life.

I may have the potential to be a rocket scientist, but choosing not to pursue that career choice does not automatically signify a lack of ambition. We must start with desire and choice. If you do have that desire but refuse to pursue it because of fear, then this is a sign of weakness that must be overcome.

But what if you do not know what you want? Is that even acceptable? That last question strikes a judgmental tone but who gets to decide? Your friends? Your spouse? Your Priest? Ultimately it’s only you that must decide. Will you be content with your own life when you leave this world? What is your own internally derived sense of expectation? If you are ambitious about these desires, you will be at peace. If not, you’ll be like I was as a kid, sitting on the steps of my grandmother’s house for hours every weekend waiting for my dad to take us out.


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