I was recently speaking with a friend about the ambition I have had inside me since I was a little boy. Ambition has allowed me to do great things. It has also thrown my life off track when I chased success at the expense of my values and relationships. I was trying to understand whether ambition is a defect or an asset. My pal pointed out that ambition is neither good nor bad, but simply defined as "a strong desire to do or achieve something, typically requiring determination and hard work." We decided together that ambition is a part of who I am, a part of who most people are, and it can be challenged for selfish measures or the greater good.
We ended the phone call as he read aloud a passage written by a man named Bill Wilson, the founder of a group dedicated to alcohol sobriety which has affected millions of people across the planet over the last century. The essay states:
"Distorted drives have been restored to something like their true purpose and direction. We no longer strive to dominate or rule those about us in order to gain self-importance. We no longer seek fame and honor in order to be praised. When by devoted service to family, friends, business, or community we attract widespread affection and are sometimes singled out for posts of greater responsibility and trust, we try to be humbly grateful and exert ourselves the more in a spirit of love and service. True leadership, we find, depends upon able example and not upon vain displays of power or glory. Still more wonderful is the feeling that we do not have to be specially distinguished among our fellows in order to be useful and profoundly happy. Not many of us can be leaders of prominence, nor do we wish to be. Service, gladly rendered, obligations squarely met, troubles well accepted or solved with God's help, the knowledge that at home or in the world outside we are partners in a common effort, the well-understood fact that in God's sight all human beings are important, the proof that love freely given surely brings a full return, the certainty that we are no longer isolated and alone in self-constructed prisons, the surety that we need no longer be square pegs in round holes but can fit and belong in God's scheme of things—these are the permanent and legitimate satisfactions of right living for which no amount of pomp and circumstance, no heap of material possessions, could possibly be substitutes. True ambition is not what we thought it was. True ambition is the deep desire to live usefully and walk humbly under the grace of God."
In an age where all that seems to matter is winning at all costs, has ambition, a drive in itself which has no moral value, become a part of the darker side of humanity that regards the self over the greater good? Is humble ambition a paradox or an integral part of civic service? Can ambition be used to become a society of values rather than a society of success?