The Paradox of Ambition

You may every one of you make your mark. You should be content with no mean attainments. Aim high, and spare no pains to reach the standard. – Ellen White, Christian author

We’ve all heard of these ‘motivational stories, haven’t we? About college dropouts who ended up forging billion-dollar tech companies or obscure young and old people who took a leap of faith in elective posts and clinched them at the first stab. Interestingly enough, society erroneously uses such outlier occurrences as an exemplar to ‘inspire’ the forthcoming generations. As a result, popular generalizations emerge: “You don’t need a college degree to succeed in life; Grades don’t ever matter: after all, A-students end up working for the C-students; Failure comes to those who don’t believe in themselves.”

(Using the examples of people such as Bill Gates et al. provides an incomplete picture regarding the matter at hand. What does the population data tell us about the fate of those who never completed college? Did 70-90% of all of them end up in Gate’s footsteps? Quick answer, no, and therefore, the popular narrative begins to crumble). 

But let’s pause and ask: If the above stances were true, what do we make of serial entrepreneurs who, from youth to old age, pumped in fortunes into causes they believed in but never got a reward back? What about those who’ve burnt the proverbial midnight oil and gained the top academic credentials but will never make as much in their lifetimes as those who founded the ‘viral startups’ make in a year? Further, what about the political veterans who’ve been in the game for decades but have yet to secure the prize despite unrelenting effort ‘chasing that bag’?


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I conjecture that such reflections probably made Solomon the Philosopher arrive at this startling conclusion: “The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, Nor satisfaction to the wise, nor riches to the smart, nor grace to the learned. Sooner or later, bad luck hits us all..” What do we make of this? Are ambition, the strong desire, and the determination to succeed really necessary in our ‘no-balance’ world? And if it’s important, what role does it play in the equation? If you don’t need a college degree to ‘succeed’ in life, should we also encourage those currently enrolled to drop out?

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If diligence, resilience, and preparedness will not necessarily favor the person who embodies these qualities, is the lack thereof the more dignified path for our future posterity? If working out and eating healthy doesn’t assure you that you’ll never contract lifestyle diseases, including cancer, why bother at all? If our conscious actions do not necessarily lead to the intended results, should we become lax, take a backseat and allow ‘inevitable randomness’ to rule our lives? 

To all these questions, no human can give a conclusive answer. Nevertheless, I can think of only one solace; upon this premise, we can somehow navigate the tough terrain of life. Attributed to American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, the Serenity Prayer is quoted as: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” With a brave heart, choose to change the things you can. Use the chance you got under the sun to make your life count. Study, work, love, and lead when you can. That’s what you can control, and that’s what matters when all is said and done. Thereafter, leave the unknown to the providence of the Almighty. 

As Wiseman succinctly concludes: “Each day is God’s gift. It’s all you get in exchange for the hard work of staying alive. Make the most of each one! Whatever turns up, grab it and do it. And heartily! This is your last and only chance at it, For there is neither work to do nor thoughts to think in the company of the dead, where you’re most certainly headed.” Purpose of joining me next week for the third episode in the series as I discuss the theme: The Paradox of Time. Till then, cheers to good people to a week and a lifetime of never-ending ambition!!

This piece comes as a sequel to The Paradox of Age. For consistency, you may need to read this before.


6 thoughts on “The Paradox of Ambition

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