Over the past twenty years or so, I’ve thought a lot about… well, myself. Sometimes, as I think about the man in the mirror, I consider this question: What are my ambitions? To what extent am I willing to work for them? Do I want too much — or do I expect too little from myself?
Macbeth wants to be King (as anyone in his position would) but he allows this desire to get in the way of his true success. He is a great warrior, recognized for valor in battle. Why not stick with that and wait for the next thing? Would he be un-ambitious — or lazy — if he did? Perhaps making honest opportunity happen, rather than taking a shortcut is his real downfall.
When I consider my own definition, and my own job, I think that that “ambitious” is probably the wrong word to describe good teachers. In my experience, “ambitious” teachers want to get nominated for teacher of the year, or want to become administrators, or they want to publish books about teaching. The ones who have been my greatest mentors, however, have not been interested in any of these things. When I think of “ambitious” teachers, I think of self-promotors. The most inspirational teachers to me, however, have been teachers who focus on one thing: teaching. I suppose that one could say that their focus on teaching is ambitious — aspiring to be a great teacher. But most of the connotations that I see when I look at Dictionary.com have to do with aspiring to be “something more.” The definition I refer to cites the word’s origin as coming from a word used in the 1300’s that meant “going around to canvass for office.”
I think that the world needs ambitious people. If nobody wanted to be president, for example, we might have a problem of leadership. On the other hand, however, I think that the ambitions for wealth or power or creating some kind of a name or legacy can actually get in the way of true achievement. If I worry about publishing my next book, or about getting recognized and promoted into my next position, can I really do justice to the job that I’m doing right now? I also suspect that the more that people are influenced by the symbols or signs of success and achievement, the more easily one can be deceived by the appearances of success, rather than authentic success. So perhaps the question that I still have is about ambition itself: Does it get in the way of achievement, or does it drive achievement? Or does it do both at once?