Ambition With a Twist
August 25, 2017
Author: Bianca Yang
My post on August 19 glorified the idea of ambition and ambitious people as the driving forces of progress and change in society. This is a belief that is culturally passed down. The American Dream is achieved by those with the ambition and guts and persistence to survive in a new world and grasp the opportunity that lay across the river of hardship they had to cross to prove themselves. The New World was founded by those who were crazy enough to believe there was land over the edge of the horizon and that there were worthy treasures to be discovered and claimed in the American soil. Startups are created by those with ambition to bring their visions to the world. VCs are those crazy people who like to live vicariously through and support those with the energy, dreams, and ambition to transform the world.
But what about the people who are content with their lives? What about the people who are happy to wake up each day to a familiar routine and live in a quiet neighborhood among neighbors they’ve known for decades, if not generations? They are placed further down the ladder of respect, because they didn’t take on as much risk or hardship or produce as much as the ambitious ones.
I believe each person has a unique place in society and he should be celebrated for what he can contribute. As Wooden said, “Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.” Why should someone who achieved at the top of their ability be mocked because they weren’t able to produce like a top 1% worker could? Let each person find their place in the world and give him respect he deserves for his results.
Of course, knowing yourself is a difficult problem. Being true to yourself may be easier, because you don’t have to distinctly qualify your uniqueness to know what feels right. But being true to yourself is extremely hard when you don’t have the freedom to pursue paths that are suited for you. Societal and parental and peer pressures can corrupt a person’s innate sense of self and push them into a less than enjoyable life. As Paul Graham said in his post on loving what you do, prestige is one of the ultimate corruptors. Any activity that is laden with prestige is done so because it is miserable. Finance, law, giving talks, C-level executive positions, etc. These positions are prestigious and pay well and come with all the glory and glamour of others fawning over you, but they will likely destroy your basic goodness.
We must be careful to distinguish prestige from honor. Doctors, military servicemen, teachers, etc. hold positions of honor in society. The difference seems to be that people in honorable positions sacrifice themselves for the betterment of society. They add value far beyond the value they receive as compensation. You can look at some estimates on value-add for some professions at 80,000 hours
I’m slowly starting to understand that some of my angst is caused by my desire to be simultaneously ambitious and content. I feel that I may not have what it takes to be ambitious and a top-line producer, but I also don’t want to live a reduced lifestyle because I have to take a lower income. It’s the classic dilemma of those who love to complain but don’t want to do anything to make their lives better. Slowly, but surely, my behavior and my mindset will change. I hope that progress is reflected in my writing.