What is Ambition?
“Ambition is about more, vision is about all.”
What is ambition? A human being wanting to be something
more than what he is right now. Whatever economic, social and
other levels of existence that one may be in, every human being
according to his imagination and understanding of life is seeking
to be something more than what he is right now. If someone is
starving right now, his ambition is that somehow, for the rest of
his life he must have at least one meal a day. If he has one meal,
he thinks of two. If he has two, he thinks of a home. If he has a
home, he thinks of something else.
It is only a few people, who have made it to a certain level
of success in their life, whose desires get labeled as ambition
by someone else. But everyone is ambitious in his own limited
ways of thinking. A beggar is also ambitious, a rickshaw puller
is also ambitious. It is just that right now he is driving someone
else’s rickshaw, and his ambition is to someday own his own
rickshaw, which is not a small jump; it is a big jump in his
view. He thinks he is just thinking of his needs and he looks
at you and thinks you are ambitious, but it is not so. He is also
ambitious in his own limited way. Compared to you, his desire
or his ambition looks so limited, so it seems to be categorized as
something different, but it is not different.
Ambition is essentially a longing within a human being to
somehow have a little larger slice of life. Nobody is free of this.
Everyone is looking at it from their own context, of course. How
they are trying to achieve it may be different for different people.
Someone may believe that money is the way to achieve his larger slice of life. Someone else may believe power is the best
currency to do it. Someone may believe knowledge is the only
way. Someone may think love is the way. Someone may think
corruption is the best way – that is also a substantial category
now, we cannot ignore them anymore.
The currency may be different from person to person, but
there is no human being who is not longing to be a little better
than what he is right now. This ambition is not the problem,
because it is very natural for every human being to strive to
be something more than what he is right now. The scale of the
ambition is the only question.
Sometime ago, I was addressing the House of Lords in the
UK. The subject we were talking about was “Sustainability: is
consciousness the key?” When we look at the way our ambitions
are designed and structured right now, if you look at the larger
world today, everyone is aspiring for whatever they think is a
better way of living. Today, a lot of people across the planet
are aspiring to a lifestyle similar to that of an average American
citizen. Every nation is trying to provide that for their people.
The Living Planet1
– which has become an authoritative source
of ecological information – says that if seven billion people on
the planet achieve the lifestyle of an average American person,
we will need 4.5 planets. But we have only one. So this kind
of ambition is self-destructive. This kind of ambition is going
to lead us to a disastrous situation. When we carry on with this
form of ambition, we can only wish that at least half the people
should never succeed. If someone comes to you, you must be
able to freely bless him with success in whatever he desires, but
now the way it is going, we have to wish, “Let them fail.”
In 2008, when I went to the World Economic Forum,
everyone was in deep depression because the recession had just
hit. Everyone was carrying a long face and many chins were
dragging on the floor. They gave me a subject to speak on –
“Recession and Depression.” The room was full of people, and
everyone wanted to know how to beat the depression. I said,
“Recession is bad enough, you don’t have to also get depressed
Right now, the way we have structured our economic system,
the way we are driving the economic engine on this planet, if we
do not succeed, we will be depressed. If we do succeed, we will
be damned. So I said, “I prefer that you are depressed.” It is
better that you are depressed than damning the world because
with what we are aspiring for, if we succeed, the world will be
devastated for sure.
It is very important that our ambition comes from our
intelligence, not just from imitation. Today our ambition is,
someone has done this much, we want to do this much. If
someone has done that much, we want to do that much – it is
an endless process. This kind of self-destructive, self-defeating
ambition is not a good thing.
The bane of the world is just that human beings are working
with limited individualistic ambition. Instead of working with
ambition, if people work for a vision of their own, a deeper
vision of life for themselves and for everything around them,
their ambitions would never be in conflict with anyone else’s
vision, because fundamentally, all human beings are working
for human wellbeing. It is just that the scale of how you handle
human wellbeing may be different from person to person.
For one person, human wellbeing may just mean one’s own
wellbeing. For another person, it may mean one’s family. For
another person, it may mean one’s community, or one’s nation.
For another person, it may mean the whole humanity. There is no
one on this planet who is not concerned about human wellbeing.
It is only a difference in scale.
If every human being, instead of working with an individual
ambition – which is bound to be in conflict with someone else’s
ambition – if we work with a larger vision, then there is no need
to scale down anything. Anyway you want wellbeing. All I am
saying is, why are you stingy about your desires? Why don’t you
be magnanimous? Why don’t you be infinite in your desires? It
is not just about “I want to be well.” “I want the whole world
to be well. I want the whole existence to be well. I want all life
to be well.” I want you to be really greedy with your ambition.
Whatever is your ambition for yourself, extend that to the whole
of humanity or to all life forms on this planet. Then there is no
need to scale it down. I am telling you, up it, don’t bring it down.
Right now the problem is that you have brought it down.
When we say ambition, ambition is just an exaggeration of
the existing. When we say vision, as the word suggests, it is
about a new possibility – something which is not yet. Ambition
is about wanting to take as much as we can take. Vision is about
making everything yours. One is an aggressive way of taking
it, another is an embrace. Trying to take a piece of the world,
and making the world yield to you willingly, are two different
dimensions of life.
All this philosophy, is it possible for a businessman? It is
very much possible and not only possible; it is especially needed
for the businessman because business is about expansion. Does
expansion happen because of inclusiveness or does it happen
because you forcefully take something? If you forcefully take
something, you will never expand to your full capacity. Only if
you learn how to make the world yield to what you want it to be,
can you take it all. Ambition is about more, vision is about all.
There is a beautiful story in the Indian lore. A monkey goes
into a house and finds a jar full of nuts. He puts his hand inside
and takes a handful of nuts. It is a very narrow-necked jar so the
hand will not come out – it is stuck. The monkey has to let go of
some nuts, but it is ambitious. It cannot let go of even one nut.
He pulls and pulls, but the hand does not come. Then, another
wise monkey comes – some monkeys are wise, you know. The
wise monkey says “This is not the way. Leave the nuts.” And
together they overturned the jar and all the nuts fell out. We have
to move from “more” to “all.” If you journey from “more” to
“all,” that means you have travelled from “ambition to vision.”
Ambition to Vision (Mystic’s Musings Series)
Copyright ©2013 Isha Foundation