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Surviving the ‘burden’ of ambition

anamika@khaleejtimes.com Filed on November 3, 2020

(Federico Caputo / Alamy Stock Photo)

In our often chaotic and noisy lives, stillness can be as enabling as ambition.

When I was a teenager, I did not know what ambition really meant. In those days, securing an 80 per cent aggregate was a personal triumph for it allowed me to hold my head high in front of my academically brilliant brother. If someone asked me where I saw myself five or 10 years down the line, I drew a blank. The present mattered because it seemed more real than the promise of a future one was yet to live. I kept setting fairly uncomplicated goals and fulfilled most of them. That was until my board results delivered a severe blow to my vanity. I learnt two lessons — one, when you hit rock bottom, pick up the pieces and move on, and two, always aspire for more.

‘More’ turned out to be an indefinable, ambiguous spot. If it wasn’t unattainable, it wasn’t ‘more’, and aspiring for anything less meant allowing oneself to fail. Securing first position in college meant nothing if I did not hold a top rank in the university. A job with a reputed media house in India meant little if my byline wasn’t appearing every day. As I evolved professionally, my personal growth remained stunted. If a family holiday had to be planned, it would be father’s prerogative. If any bills were to be paid for the house, the onus would be on the brother. Mum would be relied upon to sort out all domestic chores.

I became the absent member of the family. And yet, if my approach to life had any critics, they weren’t in the family. In Indian households, we often turn such self-flagellation into a virtue. We also consider it an asset if our child is ambitious, without ever defining what ambition really is.

Ambition is not about choking one’s soul to fulfil a dream; rather it is about finding the sweet spot between what one wants and what one needs. It helps to know that it is a societal construct. A friend who claims to be unapologetically unambitious often says it is a textbook idea that is often marketed well to inspire workforce. Why else would the process of finding purpose in life be deemed a virtue, she argues. A part of me agrees with her. Humans are wired to find a sense of purpose. From a child wanting to do well in exams to a mother working relentlessly for the well-being of her child, our goals vary. But when we take that sense of purpose and box it in as professional advancement, we narrow the possibilities of ambition.

In our often chaotic and noisy lives, stillness can be as enabling as ambition. And while success is the best revenge, happiness could be even better.

—anamika@khaleejtimes.com

Anamika Chatterjee





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