Ambition: Virtue or Vice

Ambition: Virtue or Vice

Father Sebastian McDonald, C.P.Where would the world be without some ambitious people? We think of the marvelous benefits we enjoy as a result of ambitious people intrigued by the thought of trying to implement a new idea they’ve had. Ambitious people usually seem to be the creative sort, who are driven to try out a pathway for themselves that is somewhat unique. However, this is not necessary, since the ambitious also enjoy whatever is new and challenging for them, regardless of how many others have preceded them in attempting the same thing, like climbing a very high mountain.

At times there are ambitious types who want to get ahead, so that where others are “at” determine how ambition plays out in their lives. But not all. For there are some people who have an inner drive and determination to succeed, to do something different or unique. It is part of their makeup, perhaps better called a gift or inner drive that is part of who they are.

Rock climber at sunset background. Sport and active life

There are athletic types, for instance runners, whose ambition is to be the best in their school, or their city. It’s an inner drive, already implanted in them without their striving to acquire it. In their case, ambition is a gift or endowment that makes a person who she or he is. It is competitive but its inner energy is less focused on others in an effort to best them, but more on oneself and the inner satisfaction of using to its maximum a gift or talent one has, regardless of the competitive aspect. So often ambition is focused on doing one’s personal best, regardless of others.

Ambition is the drive to excel. And it revels in doing so. It has its origin within oneself but its termination point is usually outside oneself: to be the best pianist I can be, or to be the most humorous person , or the most successful salesperson, or the most caring surgeon. None of these accomplishments would be possible without ambition. And while there is personal satisfaction in achieving these goals, often connected with this sense of accomplishment is the good that one can do—a good that is other-oriented. It’s good, not just for oneself, but it’s good for others too.

To be engaged in an activity simply because I enjoy it, with little or no thought as to whether I am successful at it, is not to be overlooked. I may belong to a bowling team comprised of those, myself included, who bowl for sheer enjoyment, relaxation, and fellowship with others who also bowl.   The ambition operative here is simply to “have fun”, to unwind, to relax. This is a form of ambition not to be overlooked. In the long run, ambition can simply be a mode of self-expression. It is not necessary to think of ambition in terms of others.

In this season of political activity, we note men and women ambitious to gain prominence in an effort to secure a victory that will help them win an office or position in various levels of government. To call them ambitious is not necessarily a criticism. They may be ambitious because they think they have the talent and gifts to improve the lives of people in view of the ideas the political candidate would bring to a position, should he or she win the election.

In the last analysis, ambition should be considered a gift of God, or an endowment, or a skill, along with a keen intelligence, a quick wit, a strong character or a charming personality. So it will undoubtedly come up for scrutiny at the Last Judgment, together with other traits and characteristics of our life. And the judgment leveled on us may, surprisingly, not necessarily consist of the charge that we were overly ambitious, but also that we were not ambitious enough, that is, we did not sufficiently recognize or develop or utilize our ambition, since it was a gift of God.

We might look to Jesus Christ and ask the question under consideration here: was He ambitious? Did He have a burning desire to achieve a goal or task? Did He exhibit any signs of His determination to achieve it? Certainly, His adversaries, among the Jewish leadership, considered Him exceedingly ambitious in the claims He seemed to be making about Himself (Jn. 6.42). and was He not still just a boy when, on the occasion of “being lost in the temple”, He responded to His mother’s mild complaint: “your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety”, by asking: “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Lk 2.48-49) Here Jesus speaks of a strong ambition of His, to identify Himself with His Father’s program. And we recall His opening words at the Last supper: “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer…” (Lk 22.15), indicating an ambition He had been planning as the grand finale of His life’s work. So from the beginning till the end of His life among us He had compelling ambitions driving Him to significant actions.

They convey to us the truth that Jesus, like us, harbored ambitions within Himself. So we need not speak of being victims of our ambitions. Rather, we should think of being utilizers of the ambitions with which God endowed us to do what He had in mind when He enriched us with them.

One thought on “Ambition: Virtue or Vice

  1. Interesting reflection as we see different degrees of ambition displayed all around us every day. Appreciated your efforts and liked your post – thank you.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: