Ambition is supposed to be all right,—commendable, decent, laudable, and all that, but it may be well to inquire as to what it is, and whether or not it is effective. A current popular magazine carries a clear and well written article which relegates ambition to the background as a force capable of producing tangible results. Another magazine, semi-technical in character, applauds and emphasizes that classification. Are they right? Or, perhaps, I should ask, are they wholly right? Has ambition no real value? It is too ethereal and impractical to be a vital force? In the slang of the day, doesn't it "click?" Is it "hooey, hokum and blah?"
To evidence their contention, these writers cite many cases of prominent, successful men of the highest types. whose ambitions could never he described in terms of hitching their wagons to stars. Quotations will best indicate the point made.
From one paper.—"I've been a plain railroad man all my life. At it for fifty years or more— Held most all the jobs. Handled men by dozens, hundreds, thousands. Seen them come and go: stay and climb; or just stay. And I'll have to admit. I never saw where ambition, as most people define it. helped much; sometimes I've seen it do a heap of harm. * * *"
Referring to individuals,—"His one thought has always been the accomplishment of the job nearest at hand. and it must not be forgotten that the most important factor in his career has been individual initiative."
Another,—"Always. lie was engaged in doing the job at hand in the best way. * * *"
Still another,—"The desire for new knowledge, the doing of what he considered his immediate job, and individual initiative did the trick."
Quoting again.—"Usually, the effective ambition is a thing of gradual growth. The far future is too complicated to figure out ahead of time. Too many things can happen. And besides, an excess of ambition can ruin a man's chances. * * *"
Specifically, what is the charge? It would seem to be that AMBITION is a false leader. That it is too likely to ignore immediate surroundings and fill one's head with rosy pictures of some unattainable end. or, even one which becomes inscruitable because one's sight is raised from the pathway he must tread, step by step. Our heads are in the air, but our feet are in the mud. Progress must lie confined within the limits set by the binding laws of physical entities,—not by wishing carpets. That which really effects progress is the short-distance pull of nearby objects. That which controls our advancement lies nearest to us.
Of course, I have not shown you the full argument. You cannot judge its strength or its weakness; I am merely concerned with presenting the idea back of the papers.
We have all seen men whom these charges recall to our minds. Contemplation of the future completely unfits them for today's job. Are most men like that?
We shall admit without hesitation that if a person's ambition lie that of dissociative type. separating his present from his future, it is certain to be impeding or even destructive. But is that the usual condition of affairs?
I am inclined to think that there is an error in the assumption, and that ambition which so affects a man has gone to untimely seed. It is not usual. Do I forget the top of the stairs, just because I look to each step? Is my desire any the less to reach the upper floor, because in order to do it I see my need to rise the first step, then the second, then the third?
AMBITION is an interesting word. The Latin verb "ambire" was used to denote the "going around!" of the candidate seeking an office. I take it that he did not lose sight of practical values.
Upon the other hand,
may not our loftiest aspirations have direct value in urging us forward?
It may be that we would do our daily chores, our studio.', our jobs without
seeing far through them. But I believe that we will have more pleasure
in doing them. as well as more immediate success, if we do conceive a beautiful
ending for it all.
By all means, do well the task in hand, as if it were the main objective. Today's work, today, well done. But do not let the goal lie such a close-by one. Set it far from you. You'll need to change it. You'll see it recede even as you approach it. Don't let it ever be said that you attained your goal. Its value to you lies in its unattainability.
Ambition AND aspirations.