I had this friend who chases his ambitions madly. Everything he has has to be bigger, better, best. He has two cars, a giant TV, an expensive European motorcycle. He works more than 60 hours a week. He loses girlfriend after girlfriend and then, truly heartbroken, anguishes over how he sacrificed love for his job.
He’s done this at least twice, never seeming to learn better.
He can’t just be a Network Guy. He has to be Rock Star Multimillionaire God-Emperor of All Networks. He can’t just be a single guy struggling to create a happy life and find a compatible partner. Whenever he finds a dating partner, he turns his back on the rest of the world, devoting all his not-at-work energy to cultivating this woman into being The One whom he marry and impregnate so his life can start. I feel like I’ve watched some obscene take on the American dream eat my friend alive.
He used to be funny and crazy, creative and kind. He once came over to the house where I was staying, put on the soundtrack to The Blues Brothers, and did this insane Peter Wolf dance with the vacuum. And then he left. He never said a word the whole time.
Now he tells me he sits alone in the dark at night. He won’t see me, and has canceled dateswith me a dozen times. He’s about to lose his latest girlfriend. And she’s the best thing that’s ever happened to him, and after 22 years of friendship, I know what I’m talking about.
This is for him and everyone like him.
Do not seek to fulfill your ambitions except as the fulfillment of your ambitions brings you real pleasure and fullness of life. Seek “greatness” (whatever that is) if vanity or insecurity drives you to (little else will), but do not expect happiness to be the result of your search. The best way to happiness is not though seeking the fulfillment of ambition but through the pursuit of happiness itself.
Find and do what makes you happy. This will make you happy in ways that the empty chasing of ambition never can. The standard of happiness is not how well you match your life to your ambitions; it is much more basic than that. The standard of happiness is this: how happy are you?
Work hard, if that pleases you. Seek to do well. Seek to do your best work. Seek comfort and security. But after you do your best, let go. Let the shape of your life be dictated by your happiness, not your ambition.