He who wants everything every time, will lose everything anytime.

 Vikrant Parsai

 Our ambitions

To be fair, some of us need to be more ambitious. It is always a pity to see people unwilling and not motivated to grow their potential. Others, however, need to temper or re-direct their ambition. Certainly, we all agree that it is the right approach to life to assess your potential and to endeavour to make the most of it. The process involves experimenting with what you can do, building ego-strength, dreaming of a desired future (what do I want?), setting goals, making plans, seeing  opportunities, becoming creative, working hard, and overcoming obstacles. So, why would we ever have to temper our ambitions?

Firstly, our ambitions are not always grounded in our creative potential. They are sometimes merely based on what we find attractive in other peoples’ lives – typically wealth, power, status or fame. When our ambitions are more externally motivated we also rely on more superficial mechanisms to achieve what we want. The core skills we are likely to develop are skills of opportunism and manipulation.

Secondly, as much as we value ambition, it is also obvious that it represents the interest of the self. At what point do we allow our ambition to exclude or rationalise other people’s interests? How much room do we leave for our moral conscience to remind us to love others as we love ourselves, or at least to do to others as we want them to do to us? Being conscious of these questions can help us to temper or re-direct our ambitions in time.

The success trap  

 The more success we have, the more it tends to mute the moral beliefs we held high when still on our way to success. It seems as though nothing can really prepare us for the phantasy world we find ourselves in when our egos get a boost from the taste of success. We instantly feel more powerful, more in control, more special, and the most dangerous of feelings, deserving and entitled. (Of course, we know not to show these feelings to others). It is a small step from experiencing these feelings to cementing them as beliefs once people show their admiration and respect for the achievement, be it a position, a qualification, award or financial success story. It is a further small step to figure out what our success entitles us to and becoming hooked on the ‘not-enough syndrome’. The truth is, as Ghandi said, there is enough for every need, not enough for every greed.

Balancing self with others

Our ambitions can work for or against us. They work for us when they also work for others in a healthy  and sustainable way. It is hard to see when they start working against us because it is always a gradual process of testing the boundaries of our newly found power or influence as we reach our milestones. It is easier to see when others are in the grip of their own self-serving ideals, missing the bigger picture and the needs of others around them. Typically, news flashes of starving people, people fleeing in despair from their war stricken countries or victims of bomb attacks do not remind them that they don’t deserve life however smart, popular, talented or hard-working they are.

Anything we always want more and more of, is not working – more security, more money, more adoration, more power, more busyness, more stimulation, more toys – not dissimilar to substance addiction. It is unworkable because the direction of the flow of real life energy is from the inside out, not the outside in. When our energy sucks inward we become like ponds, a breeding place for pests.

Lastly, we don’t have to be perfect before we can stand up against greed and corruption. If we do so with courage and humility, we do so with the willingness to correct where we are wrong. We always pay the price in some form or another when we remain silent when our conscience urges us to speak up. By objecting openly to corruption and greed we serve others. Doing so, we will regain our balance and energy for ambitious contributions to a better life for all.

Author : Dr Gerhard van Rensburg