Ambition

Ambition

What has ambition done for us in this world? So few of us have ever thought about it. If you see a man struggling to gain, to achieve, to get ahead of the crowd, do you ever ask yourself,” what is in his heart?” If you look into your own heart when you are ambitious, you might see the most frightened of men. Because man is afraid to be ambitious, he struggles to become somebody. Spiritually or in the worldly sense, there you will find the worm of fear. The ambitious man is the most frightened of men, because he is afraid to be what he is. He says, “If I remain what I am, I shall be nobody. Therefore, I must be somebody. I must become a magistrate, a judge, a Minister.” If you examine this process very closely, going behind the screen of words and ideas, beyond the wall of status and success, you will find there is fear. This is because the ambitious man is afraid to be what he is. He thinks that of himself as insignificant, poor, ugly; he feels lonely, and utterly empty. Therefore he says, “I must go and achieve something.” So either he goes after what he calls God (which is just another form of ambition) or he tries to become somebody in the world. In this way his loneliness, his sense of inward emptiness– of which he is really frightened–is covered up. He runs away from it, and ambition becomes the means through which he can escape.

What is happening in the world? Everybody is fighting somebody. One man feels less than another and struggles to get to the top. There is no love, there is no consideration, and there is no deep thought. Our society is a constant battle of man against man. This struggle is born of the ambition to become somebody, and older people encourage the young to be ambitious. They want the new generation to amount to something, to marry a rich man or a rich woman, or to have influential friends. Being frightened and ugly in their hearts, they try to make the young like themselves; and the young in turn want to be like the old because of the glamour they see in it all. When the governor comes, everybody bows down to earth to receive him, they give him garlands, make speeches. He loves it, and you love it too. You feel honored if you know his uncle or his clerk, and you bask in the sunshine of his ambition, his achievements. So you are easily caught in the ugly web of the older generation, in the pattern of this monstrous society. Only if you are very alert, constantly watchful, only if you are not afraid and do not accept, but question all the time—only then will you not be caught, but go beyond and create a different world.

That is why it is very important for you to find your true vocation. Do you know what ‘vocation’ means? Something which you love to do, which is natural to you. After all, that is the function of education—to help you grow independently so that you are free of ambition and can find your true vocation. The ambitious man has never found his true vocation. If he had, he would not be ambitious.

So, it is the responsibility of the teachers and of the principal to help you to be intelligent, unafraid. This way you can find your true vocation, your own way of life, the way you really want to live and earn your fortune. This implies a revolution in thinking. In our present society, the man who can talk, the man who can write, the man who can rule, the man who has a big car, is thought to be in a marvelous position. The man who digs in the garden, cooks, or builds houses holds a much lower social standard.

Are you aware of your own feelings when you look at a mason, the man who mends the road, drives a taxi or pulls a cart? Have you noticed how you regard him with absolute contempt? To you he hardly even exists. You disregard him. But when a man has a title of some kind, or is a banker, a merchant, a guru, or a minister- you immediately respect him. If you really find your true vocation, you will help break down this rotten system completely. Then, whether you are a gardener, or a painter, or an engineer, you will be doing something which you love. This is not ambition. To do something marvelously well, to do it completely, truly, according to what you deeply think and feel– that is not ambition and in that there is no fear.

To help you to discover your true vocation is very difficult. It means that the teacher has to pay a great deal of attention to each student to find out what he is capable of. He has to help him not only to be afraid, but to question and to investigate. You may be a potential writer, or a poet, or a painter. Whatever it is, if you really love to do it, you are not ambitious. In love there is no ambition.

So, is it not very important while you are young that you should be helped to awaken your own intelligence and thereby find your true vocation? Then you will love what you do, right through life. This means there will be no ambition, no competition, no fighting another for position, for prestige. Then perhaps you will be able to create a new world. In that new world, all the ugly things of the older generation will cease to exist: their wars, their mischief, and their separative gods, their rituals which mean absolutely nothing, their sovereign governments, and their violence. That is why the responsibility of the teachers, and of the students is very great.

Søren Kierkegaard

1813-1855