Ambition – It’s a Matter of Self-Respect

Don’t look back in regret

There is a well-documented phenomenon in near-death experiences whereupon life is said to flash before one’s eyes. It is properly called a ‘life review’, with the proposed reasons for this happening varying from the spiritual to the scientific. Some people believe it to be a reflexive appraisal or a critique of your life as it comes to a possible conclusion. Another tendered explanation for this occurrence is that it is the brain’s survival response, an attempt to retrieve anything from your past that might be able to aid you in your immediate peril. Whatever the reasons for the life review, it must surely be a moment of absolute self-honesty.

To be or not to be

In this moment, or perhaps on our deathbeds, during our final moments of reflection as we prepare to shuffle off this mortal coil, the concern might be that it is not the things we did that we most regret; rather it is the things we did not do that will haunt us as we pass on.

All this is inherently personal, and modern life can be a lonely and complex place. It affects our expectations on what this world will provide for us. It also places certain social expectations upon us. Naturally, this pressure can lead us to make decisions based on what other people want from us or expect us to do. We all know the rigmarole; there is a customary life-model many of us feel a significant expectancy to fulfil – do well in school, find a steady job, follow a career, start a family to support, eat well, exercise regularly, maintain a healthy social life and be happy. This structure disregards the plain fact that people are individual and that there is not a one-size-fits-all template of the successful happy life that will surely work for everybody.

In this technological age, as our global population continues to grow, we have to tussle to carve out our own space and find fresh ways of occupying ourselves as our attention spans diminish. We crave immediate relief and, as a result, time can seem to pass more rapidly and so life can seem shorter. In this way time becomes more valuable, which can lead to rash decisions that can go on to define us.

Courage as the catalyst

This is where ambition comes in. For some, ambition can seem like a fluffy ideal, a pipe-dream. For others, ambition is a dirty word that holds hands with greed and conjures up a leering Gordon Gekko as its mascot. Either way, it is a worrying symptom of the times when the very word ‘ambition’ now carries a pejorative inference.

Ambition is a natural trait that has progressed people, individually and collectively, throughout our existence. It equips us with the nerve to stand outside the herd and exercise a degree of different-thinking, to not follow the crowd. It fortifies our spirit and leads us up the path in the direction of success in our desires rather than down a path toward safe banality.

So, perhaps an accompanying quality of ambition is courage. It is an absurdity of life that people who dare be different can be frowned upon and judged unfavorably until the precise moment they achieve something, at which point they are revered and celebrated for their endeavor. To that end, it seems prudent to shed ourselves of the burden of the expectations of others. It seems it might take a brave person to listen to and act upon that sincere voice within and step outside of these pressures and norms.

A matter of self-respect

Loyalty and maturity are important characteristics to possess. To do right by your loved ones and your neighbors is absolutely a decent and proper intention. However, it is equally to do right by yourself. This is not as fundamentally selfish as it might seem. Self-actualization is vital to self-possession and, therefore, self-respect. Slow and steady can win the race but there is little self-esteem in winning a race that you do not prize. Stability can be valuable but it does not necessitate happiness. Indeed, choices of security can manifest themselves negatively as midlife crises as fears of a life wasted eventually supplant the earlier fears of self-preservation and our sense of obligation to tend to the life-model of general expectation. The façade of happiness will slip eventually if you are not honest with yourself and being honest with yourself is imperative to respecting yourself.

Some decisions around ambition can be difficult. Sacrifices might have to be made and certain priorities may need to be outlined. No-one can blame you for being scared to take the jump but your response to that fear is something that you may well have to reconcile yourself with at some point in your life. Risk-takers are not always mavericks; most people need to overcome themselves to achieve what they desire. This aspect of our human nature is something to be conquered, the challenge of betterment. We rightly consider dedication to be an admiral quality, and so dedication to genuine self-fulfilment should be of equal value.

A personal journey

There are myriad quotes and self-help mantras, and whilst they may inspire, they cannot guide. Ambition is a personal journey. Even those who know you most intimately can never fully understand what is within you. Some may empathize, some may scoff. Do not be discouraged by their responses. Similarly, do not judge others for their lack of ambition or appreciation of what might compel you from within.

The only honest judgment one should take note of is one’s own. This isn’t to say you should disregard all criticism. It can be constructive but keep things in perspective. For example, at the age of 30, and by checking in the mirror, I might have to admit defeat in my ambition to be professional footballer! The end is not what defines you; it is the journey and how you respond to its tribulations that define the person you are. An earnest endeavor toward something that is true to you will cultivate your self-respect.

Ambition is not a singular aim. Rather, it is a way of living and of being able to look yourself in the eye without shame. Disregard the glib cliches; it is not a case of simply listening to your heart instead of your head. Rather, it is a case of following your heart whilst listening to your head. Be realistic without limiting yourself, and avoid judging yourself by other people’s standards because it will be in your moments of solitude, when you have to face yourself alone, that you will be unable to hide from your own failure to be true to yourself.