Defining the Word Ambition
Back in the days of “what do you want to be when you grow up,” I declared myself a future missionary. I don’t know why I thought traveling would be a good idea since a twenty-minute car ride felt like a long journey to me. But I mentioned the idea excitedly to my parents, describing the places I would travel and the things I would share with others.
During this age of dreaming, I took a tour of my dad’s office building. He introduced me to a coworker, who gestured me over to a map on the wall.
“He’s a missionary,” my parents explained. The missionary pointed to the places he’d traveled to share the gospel on the map, tracing a finger across an empty gulf of blue.
“Abigail, tell him what you want to be when you grow up!” my dad encouraged me. I stared at the map.
“…a cook,” I said.
As we walked away, my mom bent down to ask me, “Where’d that come from? I thought you wanted to be a missionary.” I explained that I had since edited my future dreams and already gone through several more possible careers. This was the first of many occasions of dropped dreams, forgotten interests, and flakey ambition.
Current culture is pretty saturated with the idea of ambition. Many young people work hard to gain knowledge and achieve honorable goals. Good stories are driven by characters full of a powerful desire to succeed in amazing, heroic ways. Although ambition can sometimes be a bad thing when it is twisted for an ungodly purpose, I’ve also realized that it can be a very good thing, and I’ve admired the quality in others.
There are so many occasions in my life where I wished that I had the ambition to do crazy things with the time given to me. When I read about or witness people who succeed because they are truly driven to achieve something good, like go to law school, publish a novel, or change the world in some small but significant way, it makes me want to have that sort of determination as well.
But, then I remember the setbacks, the problems, the standards, the failures that come with any big goals. Rather than having some magical bravery to stand up to those things, I feel daunted by the idea of how easy it is to get way off-track with any kind of goal, and ashamed that I don’t have the “dream” or the “work ethic” to get something done. In short: I have the ambition of a soggy goldfish cracker.
This semester, I have made the discovery that there might actually be two types of ambition. One is the determination to pursue and conquer an admirable goal. The other is a teeny-tiny ambition. I can only describe it as an ambition with a forgiving goal. It is the ambition without limits and comparison: a life-long ambition where the end is a loving and forgiving savior.
My ambition is to wake up in the morning. To eat good food. To have good conversations with people. To learn new things. As someone who doesn’t know where I want to end up after college (or even during college), my ambition is to gain the skills I need for whatever God has planned in the future, and to trust that he will equip me. This takes plenty of hard work and determination (especially the waking up in the morning bit). I think that you need both types of ambition to form balance. The ambition to trust in God, serve others, and enjoy his creation fuels the desire to take on projects, face fears, and make changes.
No matter how many times I change my mind about what I want to work towards and what I should spend my time on, everything I do is for a purpose. God is equipping all of us for the ways we can serve his kingdom, and the path to the “goal” is anything but straight.
This article originally appeared in the Feb. 25, 2022 issue of The Bagpipe.