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The nakedness of ambition

Well it’s good to have aspirations and goals and seek to improve your lot. But I have to say I’m more than a little ambivalent about the world view held by the ambitious type – those who proclaim a singularity of purpose and clarity of vision that (they say) are prerequisites to success. I think it might be that singularity of purpose, and a lack of an account of what the criteria for success are, that troubles me the most.

For my part, I keep a weather eye out for those folks who fail to conceal their desperation for success. Those for whom their own self-esteem is defined by the applause of others. I see them occasionally at the day-job and (sadly) more often in folk-clubs and other music venues. In a way, it’s hard to be too critical because there’s no question that you must be focused and driven if you’re going to achieve your goals in any highly competitive arena. But there are some who see and value little apart from the achievement of these goals and who notice little and care less about the impact their striving has on others. And there are those lovely people who will speak negatively of you to others with the conviction this will make them grander by comparison.

I should confess that my uneasiness with all this is caused by my retrospection into my own early efforts to be a successful singer-songwriter during those short few years when I was convinced that my day was bound to come if I put as much effort as I could into my career and was prepared to sacrifice other considerations to that purpose. Actually, I don’t remember the latter being a conscious consideration; but in hindsight I see that I developed in the eyes of others a selfish and manipulative personality – and on some occasions I know I presumed too much when friendship and help was given. In short, I treated some people rather shabbily. Do I consider I would have cause to regret this now (as I do) had I in fact become successful? The question is moot.

As a matter of fact, I’ve mastered a sleight of hand where I can transmute the criteria for my own success, at will, depending on the prevailing outlook and the likelihood of my achieving a prescribed set of goals at any particular time. This is a wonderful strategy and has the priceless advantage of my being able to avoid the risk of failure entirely. All I have to do is elect to abandon a particular set of ambitions and recast my aspirations based entirely on the probability of success – should I so choose!

So I occupy the opposite pole from the ambitious type, now: I’m irresolute, inhibited, and lazy. Maybe that points to why ambitious people bother me so much. It could be that I envy their energy and commitment. That they might succeed where I have failed. All well and good. But I don’t feel comfortable in their company – and I prefer, these days, that people feel comfortable in mine.

2 thoughts on “The nakedness of ambition

  1. … a thought to share on musical ambition…

    “None of my career has ever been really planned very much. It just sorta happens. I feel like doing something and I do it, and then something comes to fruition out of that.” -Norman Blake

    Here’s the article from which the quote was taken:

  2. Hi Greg,

    Your comment caused me to read my post again for the first time since the intervening eight years when I wrote it. I wouldn’t now take back a single sentence, but I would perhaps be more critical of my own lack of ambition and my laziness. No matter. Also I do admire, more that I might care to admit, those who strive to achieve their dream, no matter the cost.

    I read the article. Interesting – thanks for the link.


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