I’ve been thinking this week about ambition and how at times it can be wonderful fuel for work and, at other times, completely crushing.
My ambition has two personalities:
My “bad” ambition is like a narcissistic stage mother. Anything I achieve isn’t quite good enough. Her favorite phrase is: “You’re only as good as your last project… or painting or writing session,” depending on the circumstances. (And we all know what she thought of that last project.) She never celebrates my successes because no matter how great something is, it still isn’t a Pulitzer or a Guggenheim and, she’ll only be happy if I achieve some level of success that’s always unattainable.
My “good” ambition is excited about the future but she’s not in a rush. She’s happy to sit for hours to make something right – but by right she means as authentic and deep as I can go. She wants the interview on Terry Gross’ Fresh Air after the memoir comes out, but thinking of it feels exciting like imagining the first taste of a chocolate mousse pie. The excitement is connected to creating with a lightness and a depth.
To my “good” ambition, everything’s a learning experience, everything's a chance to grow. She wants big things and she’s not ashamed for how big her dreams are. Her wanting is unabashed. She enjoys imagining the query letter, the book jacket, the audience at Powell’s. She takes notes on who could write a blurb. She remembers a good book designer, in case I have to self-publish. Nothing can stop her.
As you can imagine, I’m doing my best to foster my “good” ambition. Because the “bad” ambition might not even be ambition, at all. Or it might be what happens to our dreams when they get mixed with fear. Fear of being bad, rejected, unworthy.
Notice how you experience these two poles of ambition. Stay connected with the ambition that keeps you both creating and manifesting all that you desire.
The Druidess, by Odilon Redon, 1893, charcoal on paper, 39 x 33 cm, Private Collection.