I have a lot of it.
I will never be happy.
Any time I decide to have less ambition and to be happy with what is, I work less and get unhappy. I’m happiest when a lot gets done. But I will never be able to do enough. It is very difficult to find a sweet spot. I go back and forth on this issue… do I want to work on working harder so I can achieve my never-ending goals or do I want to work on having fewer easier-to-reach goals. Or maybe I want to work on keeping those stretch goals but not stressing when I don’t reach them.
One of the problems with always being the smartest kid in the class (until high school, anyway) is that to keep myself from being bored I’d work on getting 100%. My sister was content with doing the minimum to get As and daydreamed a lot (until my parents sent her to Catholic school and the minimum to get an A was more than before), but I worked within the system. It is difficult to meet with challenges when you’ve been acing things with little-to-no effort most of your life, and it is difficult to separate ambition from feelings of worth.
Indeed there may be longer-term practical implications of the failure to meet your own targets, and these may not be trivial: Alan was not able to go to his first choice of university. There is a crucial distinction, however, between the practical implications of failure and its emotional impact. Gifted children can avoid many of the long-term emotional implications of failure if they have learnt that no given measure of your achievements can fully reflect your abilities or worth. Of course this is an important message for us all, not just for gifted children, but in their case it is particularly significant because high achievement can become so tightly bound up with a gifted child’s estimate of his own worth; and because gifted people are often cast as an infallible persona by those around them, making failure so much more difficult and shocking when it does occur. If we can help them to see beyond the confines of targets and achievements then, whether or not they have realized those dreams, they may be able to avoid the feeling that therefore they are worth more or less than would otherwise be the case.
Distin, Kate(Editor). Gifted Children : A Guide for Parents and Professionals. London, GBR: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2006. p 40.
I have to keep reminding myself that if you don’t get rejected from time to time, it means you’re not aiming high enough.
We recently talked about a couple of our relatives who we’d like to enable to go to college. One common theme in the comments is that these girls need more ambition before they should be allowed to go. Poor kids who have a burning desire to go to college will go to college even with obstacles in their way. And the oldest did have a lot of ambition at one point… she wanted to be a voice actress and an animator and similar things. She’s older now and wants the practical reality of being a K-12 teacher. She may change her mind one day, but that’s her current plan.
I want to be someone. I want to achieve on a national and international level. I want to do solid work and figure out how the world works. I will probably be less content than the oldest once she’s employed and tenured with a family of her own. But maybe not. I enjoy the freedom and excitement of my job, as much as I hate the constant feelings of guilt and occasional feelings of failure. It’s hard mingling with people who are in the top percent of the top percent when you’re sort of in the bottom percent of that top percent… and if you just worked harder you could be in the middle percent of it. At the same time, it is thrilling to mingle with those people.
One of my favorite folktales growing up is about a moth who was shooting for the moon. Every night she would try to fly to the moon and every night she would get a little higher than she had the night before. The other moths would tease her, saying she would never get to the moon and she should stick to closer targets. But still she kept on, while her tormentors, one by one, flew too close to flames and incinerated. Moral: You’ll never make it to the moon, but you won’t be immolated either.
I think this email tagline from one of my students sums it up best: “Shoot for the moon, even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”–Les Brown
So I’ll work on keeping my ambition but do a better job of taking those failures in stride. After all, what you do after failure is what is important. Especially if we want to keep stretching and growing.
Where do you stand on the ambition question?