Ambition and a contented personal life need not be contradictory to each other. Don’t make your ambition impossible to achieve!
ARE less ambitious people better off than those who are wildly competitive? Is life a better deal for those who are average students, get a decent degree, find themselves a secure job and settle down comfortably in it? Now all they need to worry about is securing a happy home life, bringing up normal, average kids and living happily ever after! Probably here too the standards they set themselves are not too high and so, with lower expectations, their chances of disappointment are much lower too.
Rahul Sharma (name changed), a colleague, talks of a friend who years ago told him he didn’t want to ever grow beyond a GM. “I found it very strange then,” says the highly competitive self-flagellating colleague, “but now as I find myself with no time for myself and just a weekend relationship with my wife as bosses and work take over all my waking hours, I think my friend was pretty smart! Today, he has chosen a career and lifestyle that may not be cuttingedge, but which gives him enough time for the rest of his life!”
I cannot believe that Rahul seriously meant it, because if he did, what’s to stop him from throwing in the towel even now? The fact that he will not do so means that he holds his drive, his ambition and his goals dear, and is willing to make the required sacrifices for the same. As all those with overriding dreams and ambition do.
However Rahul goes on, “The pace of my life is such that I don’t know how eight months of this year have passed by. I have no time to remain in touch with friends since I work round the clock to keep up with competition. Age is catching up and I know soon I will be old with hardly any intimate friends left. I am familiar with a lot of people courtesy Facebook but on social media sites like FB, we are trading intimacy with familiarity. The digital world is crazy and addictive and perhaps we are attracted to it since we decide when we open and shut conversations with Facebook friends.”
Says another friend, “I am increasingly finding myself feeling lonely in the middle of all the work and projects and even with family around. I think it is the lack of “me” time that makes me feel so. Maybe I’m missing my own company, my own thoughts. Or, maybe I am missing being with close friends. That is when I seek out people on FB. There is no time to be intimate — physically, mentally, spiritually — either with yourself or someone close.”
And yet how would we be any different from animals if all we did was eat, sleep and exist in the small space we call ours and be happy to mark its boundaries as ours? What is life if not an aspiration, a stretch to reach out to the next goal. It is that aspiration, no matter how unattainable the goal, which lifts us above our circumstances and helps better our lives. If a carpenter were to dream of being the country’s Prime Minister, chances are that he may at least end up setting up a small business for himself and carve out a better life for his children. On the other hand, if resigned to his lot, he were to have no ambition, he would die a carpenter and so would his future generations. An impossible dream may shape a better reality for him.
The problem is not with the dreaming, but with making that dream an obsession; not with ambition, but with making that drive the be-all and end-all of your existence. Ambition and a contented personal life need not be contradictory to each other. We should be able to distinguish between ambition that is within the realms of possibility and that which may be an impossibility to achieve. Knowing that, we need to strike a balance between overriding ambition and a contented personal life. There are phases when one needs to give one’s all to work and others when one needs to step back with equal confidence and give due importance to one's personal life. Balance and time management is the key — certainly not as easy as it sounds!
For those of us who are ambitious, there are times in life when it becomes a heavy burden to bear. There are testing times when we are stretched and stressed and all the angst just doesn’t seem worth it. It is at this time that the decision has to be made whether to fight on and may be live like a king some day, or to give up and crawl through the rest of your lives.
As British philosopher John Stuart Mill said, it is possible to be “content with life” even though “dissatisfied”, so long as one has the proper balance of pleasure, quantitatively and qualitatively. In his words,
“better Socrates dissatisfied than a pig satisfied.” Who in their right mind would want to lead the life of a pig with no questions of the world, no complaints and no ambition? Socrates with his dissatisfied mind, his curiosity and mental turmoil would certainly be the choice of every rational person.
Bouts of high-adrenaline ambition interspersed with moments of a quiet content would be the ideal recipe for a life well lived!