"Don't go out with that guy. He's got no ambition. He'll never amount to anything," says the Daddy to his all-grown-up 'little girl'.
Or "You'll never have anything. Do you want a nice house like this? Do you want a nice car? You've always enjoyed the extras in life, thanks to my hard work. Do you want to throw it all away on some guy who has no ambition?"
It's another day and another guy. Same Daddy. Same all-grown-up 'little girl'.
"I don't trust him," says the Daddy. "He's awfully ambitious. I think he'd sell his own mother to get to the top of the company. He's always thinking of the next promotion, always angling for a way to be recognised by the boss. Did you see that house of his? And he drives a Mercedes? He's too young to have all that! Nope, I don't trust him. He's too ambitious."
Okay, so which is it? Do we like ambition or not? It's a word that wears two different coats, and it's only your perspective that changes it from one coat to the other. All it takes is a smile on your face and in your voice to make it a really wonderful quality. Or it takes a slight squint and a little sneer to turn it into a greedy, selfish, heartless thing.
Here are some Matthew Good lyrics for you, from one of his coolest songs, "21st Century Living":
"Ambition, ambition's a tricky thing, it's like riding a unicycle over a dental floss tightrope, over a wilderness of razor blades."
Wow. That's quite a powerful image. But is he right about that?
Certainly, we need some ambition in life. It's what pushes us forward to chase our dreams, reach our goals. It's what urges us to be educated, to make a good living (whatever that means to each of us individually). Without it, we'd be in trouble. Without it, our dreams would die. We may not even bother to have any in the first place.
But can you have too much ambition? I suppose the short answer is "yes", although in reality, I don't believe that in those cases, ambition is the problem. "Yes" if Daddy is right about someone selling his own mother to get ahead.
But you know what? Ambition is not that man's problem. And that's assuming that Daddy is right about the man. Perhaps Daddy's the one with the problem, being jealous, envious, wishing he had what the man has, wishing he had been as successful in his career as the man was, wishing he'd chased his dreams rather than giving up on them.
In and of itself, there is nothing wrong with wanting to achieve great things and/or earn a lot of money - tons of it, if you want it. Look at Oprah, for example. She has accomplished astonishing things. And she's worth billions but she is just as down-to-earth, as kind, as "real" as your next-door neighbour.
In those cases where we say someone's ambition is a negative thing, it's not really ambition that's the problem. It's fear - our own, not that of the person we see as being ambitious-in-the-bad-way. No, our fear drives insecurity, jealousy, greed and selfishness. Perhaps it's a fear of not being good enough. A fear of poverty or not having enough. Fear of disappointing someone. Fear of rejection.
I understand what Matthew Good is talking about. He means 'ambition' the same way Daddy does, the way many people do. He means that we can go too far in the pursuit of success, but that's not about ambition.
Daddy knows ambition is a good thing or he wouldn't be telling his little girl to stay away from men who don't seem to have any. He knows it is essential to fulfillment and happiness, to achieving goals and making dreams come true.
But Daddy operates out of fear and does not understand that ambition is not the same as greed, disrespect, manipulation, trampling others while you get what you want or need.
Yeah, ambition is a good thing.
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