“Intelligence without ambition is a bird without wings.”
Walter H. Cottingham
“It occurred to me that the voracious ambition of humans is never sated by dreams coming true, because there is always the thought that everything might be done better and again.”
“Oh, it’s delightful to have ambitions. I’m so glad I have such a lot. And there never seems to be any end to them– that’s the best of it.
Just as soon as you attain to one ambition you see another one glittering higher up still. It does make life so interesting.”
Learning the fact that your talent, in reality, is matched by a shitload of people.
Learning that your best is relatively easily matched by a shitload of people.
I thought of this when I recently saw the fabulous documentary about Janis Joplin < Janis Joplin: Little Girl Blue> and I scribbled down something she said:
“… at 27 i realized there are a lot of people with talent, the difference is ambition.”
Talent is talent.
Smarts are smarts.
Expertise is almost always relative.
At any given point in Life and your career you can look around you and, if you are self aware, you will note you are rarely the most talented, rarely the smartest one in the room and rarely the only expert. Yeah. Even on your best day you may not actually be the best.
Okay. Let me say it is a tough thing to wrap your head around. Its not that you truly want to be the most talented, the smartest or the most expert, most of us don’t really care, you just want to feel that at some point you are smart, talented and an expert at something. And when surrounded by people of similar talents, smarts and expertise … well … it is hard to feel that.
And what may be worse <to someone like me who would like to be judged on the raw capabilities> is that often the difference is ambition.
Look. I think anyone with any amount of talent or smarts or some expertise wants to reach a place where you are not only the best you can be but just, well, be good. I mean be really good at something. It doesn’t have to be some high falutin’ title or gobs of money thrown at you, you just want to feel a glimmer of being the best at some moment.
And even with all of the talent swirling around out there in the world I do believe it is attainable. But in achieving this I believe you actually have to get as close to the soul of who & what you are.
Talent only takes you so far.
Smarts only take you so far.
Even the drive of ambition can only really take you so far.
You gotta let your ambition be ignited by that little flame inside you which ends up firing the ambition to greater heights than just the talent & smarts you have. But. This means you have to “give” a little to “get” a little <if not a lot>.
You may not initially think accessing this little flame space inside you would be dangerous, but it really is kind of a dangerous place, or at least fraught with peril, that place inside you where your soul, passion for what you desire & ambition resides.
And maybe worse? It is a little dangerous even if you balance it all fairly well. It is dangerous because to be as good as you can be you gotta give a little of yourself up to feed your talent and ambition to grow it beyond the normal levels. And each level can be so addictive or pleasurable you have a tendency to want to feed it a little more.
That is the price one must pay to reach the heights of ‘as good as you can be.’
Of course in doing so it becomes doubly dangerous:
You can easily make the flame inside burn a little too bright and you get fried from the inside out <or you simply get blinded and lose perspective>.
You can reach a height where you end up getting burned <you reach beyond your natural smarts, talent & expertise>.
And that is where the balance of talent & ambition comes into play.
When and where to stop.
And this is hard.
You would think there would be some stop signs or, like growing up, you recognize you have stopped growing and are at the height you will be for the rest of your Life.
But you don’t.
Heights with regard to ambition and being a good as you can be is something where you always feel like you can grow another inch, foot, or yard.
To be clear. I do not believe ambition is the most important tool to achieving success. I do not believe ambition is more important than talent, smarts/savviness or access to the proper resources. But I do believe ambition can be the difference maker all things being equal.
That said I do get tired of all the self-help books suggesting that ambition and determination alone will help you achieve your desired success regardless of talent and ability. It is a silly if not misguided idea. Think about it.
While we certainly can find some people who overreached their talent & smarts we also all know people who are aspiring to something which they simply do not have the ability to achieve. I read somewhere: “highly motivated people without ability can do stupid things.”
An ambitious attitude can engender the perseverance to guide one to some success and, ultimately, I imagine some version of self-satisfaction … as well as some stupidity.
The will, the desire, maybe even the dream to be & do something is absolutely a powerful personal engine. And sometimes, maybe even often, it can get you a little farther than your natural abilities may have taken you all on their own. Ambition can certainly help in maximizing talent because it can sometimes be the motivation to not only work hard … but maybe work a little harder than you may have wanted to.
Ambition does have a nice habit of insuring you don’t waste what talent you do have, but it doesn’t guarantee maximizing potential. It doesn’t because more often than not ambition isn’t born with a naturally smart compass … it simply powers you in the direction you choose <which is not always the direction you should go>.
Hey. I am not anti-ambition. In fact I think the way society looks at ambition is misguided. Far too often it suggests ambition as a bad thing as it mistakenly always ties it to greed, narcissism or desire for power. More often ambition is just a desire to not be mediocre. A desire to be the best one can be.
Certainly ambition can drive someone to cut corners and to assume “you do what you need to do to get where you want.” Ambition can, not always, muffle the voice of ethical behavior.
Here is what I can tell you from a personal point of view.
I was not, and am not, particularly ambitious, but I did recognize that being in the zone in work was the best thing that ever happened to me. Leaving that zone was always a little emptier than when in that zone. And all I could often think of was getting back into the zone. My only real ambition was to be in the game and the best game I could be in.
I also realized that for me to play that game well I had to ‘give a little of me’ to ‘get the best out of me.’
Did I balance it well?
I don’t know.
I doubt it.
All I know is that while I may not have acted like it in my career and Life <and I am sure I often miscommunicated this feeling many times> I have known there is always someone smarter, more talented and have significantly more expertise than I in any given situation and at any given time. And because of that I was consistently humbled and challenged — equally.
That was my balance.
When I look around in the workplace and tables in some bar as people debate issues and problems I am fairly sure that this balancing talent & ambition & reality is hard.
Ambition, and talent as well, demands a lot of you.
It would be far too easy for me to suggest that ambition demands some sort of dedication to hard work, focus, some sacrifice and honing of some expertise.
I actually think ambition, not blind ambition, demands you to not settle. And that is a big demand.
“You are only as much as you settle for.”