The Ambition Paradox

There’s this incommunicable paradox in having an ambition that I wrestle with all the time. It has to do with finding gratitude in the now, while seeking better and comparison, not to others necessarily, but to myself.

Thoreau says, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” And in my experience, that is most certainly true.

Ambition is chasing after something that you don’t have. It can be anything. Part of having ambition is seeing a gap between what you have and what you want to have, who you are and who you want to be.

This requires comparison.

Part of my journey has been in comparing myself against thresholds of “where I thought I’d be by now” or “where I need to get to.” This constant comparison by way of goals and ambitions can be exhausting at times. It’s easy to get beat down.

But on the flip side, it’s what drives me. The vision is what pulls me forward towards growth and higher contribution. The opportunity to serve and become better is what grounds me in gratitude. It gets me to pick up the umpteenth book when I could turn on the tube instead.

When you’re wrapped up in ambition, it’s easy to lose sight of what this is all for. It’s the classic parable in The Alchemist. What you seek to be, you already are. What you seek to have, you already have.

We all “know” this stuff. We understand these paradoxes. They’re codified in all sorts of aphorisms and phrases. But that’s just it. For many of us, we have to chase down our ambitions to realize somewhere on the path that “getting” something isn’t the goal at all.

It’s to enjoy the process of life itself.

We have ambitions and goals, and compare ourselves to others, because we think those things will make us happy.

But those are just the vehicles.

Happiness happens in the now (or never).

Kate Ward