Ambitions; they’re pretty much something we all have at one point or another, right? Whether it’s based on education, career, family, lifestyle, a lot of people tend to mark off moments in their life based on what they have and what they want, milestones they’ve achieved and milestones they’re reaching for. A lot of life revolves around this concept of always aspiring to something.
Not everybody lives like that, of course. It’s very common for people to say you should always be striving for something, that you should always have dreams, but that isn’t the case for everyone. It’s perfectly and entirely normal not to have dreams, not to have aspirations. For some folks, navigating life isn’t about striving and aspiring, it’s about getting through the day to day, not needing goals to fuel them. Not everyone has to be aiming for something and, some days, that kind of life doesn’t sound so bad, does it?
There are, however, also lots of us who are striving for something. Your goals might be small or massive, short-term or long-term, life-changing or something that’ll just help you through the day a little better when it’s achieved, ambitions come in all shapes and all sizes. They could be based on working towards a new career, finishing a certain level of education, starting a family, owning a house, being able to jog further. Perhaps you’re aspiring to play a new song on the guitar, or maybe you’re working towards your driver’s test, you might even be doing what you can to further your journey towards becoming a published author. Ambitions don’t have to be life-changing events, though they certainly can be too; ambitions can be anything from mastering a new recipe to becoming an astronaut. For those who do have ambitions, they don’t have to look a certain way. Some people might question your ambitions, but what matters is that they’re important to you, that you set them for yourself and that you mark your progress against yourself and not somebody else.
Ambitions don’t always look exactly how others think they should. For example, for me, after having returned from living abroad, I get a lot of questions about what comes next, what I’m going to do with the experiences and knowledge that I acquired whilst living abroad, when I’ll be going back, all those sorts of questions. They’re harmless, of course, they often come from a place of expecting you to have done something to better yourself, or having done something like that for a specific reason to further yourself along some path you might be heading down.
I didn’t live abroad for any specific reason. I went abroad because my previous opportunities of going abroad were taken from me because of the pandemic, as many people suffered because of the pandemic. I didn’t go abroad thinking I would be there forever, I didn’t go abroad because, when I returned, I wanted to utilise everything I had learned for a certain career or lifestyle, I didn’t go abroad to use it as a stepping stone for something in the future. Living abroad last year as I did was an aspiration of mine, but not necessarily for anything bigger, it was just because it was something I had wanted for a long time. My ambition was to go, learn a language, absorb a culture, and enjoy it. That’s enough. It doesn’t have to be something more.
There’s often this belief that we have to explain our ambitions, as if we must carve each of the stepping stones that we walk upon for a specific reason, to reach something else. Some people certainly do live like that, there are some folks with ambitious lives who map out each moment to push themselves towards their ultimate goal, and that can be a great way to live. I don’t advocate for a life where you’re constantly switched on, constantly working, always trying to improve as if the present is unlivable, but I certainly advocate for a life where, if you want to achieve something, there’s no reason you can’t utilise everything around you to get there.
But you don’t have to explain yourself. If all you want is to aspire to something because you know you’ll enjoy it, then that’s all the explanation you need for yourself, and certainly all anyone else ever needs. If you want to learn to play the violin because you think it’s a beautiful instrument, that can be the height of your ambition, you don’t have to learn it because you want to be in an orchestra one day. If you want to reach the peak of a set of mountains in the countryside purely because you like the view, that’s enough, you don’t have to want to reach the summit because you want the glory or because you’re trying to reach for something better. If you want to blog for a year because you like the idea of keeping it as a diary for the future, then do that, you don’t have to justify it and say you’re going to start blogging because you want to be a famous blogger if you don’t. Many people expect your ambitions to be justifiable, they want you to say you’re doing something for some bigger reason, and sometimes, you just aren’t. It may be true that, sometimes, you are, and that’s fantastic, it’s a wonderful thing to know what you want and how you’re going to get it, but it’s equally as fantastic as setting yourself a goal simply because you know you’re going to enjoy it.
What’s also hazardous about this idea of justification is comparison, marking your goals and your progress against someone else’s. This idea of comparison is something I’ve mentioned before, and it’s a pretty harrowing thing that many of us do. Living a life of comparison is easy, there’s so very many methods out there designed to keep us comparing ourselves to others, but it’s dangerous. Why should we mark our progress and our ambitions against someone else’s? If your ambition is bigger than your neighbour’s or if your ambition is smaller than your best friend’s or even if you have no ambitions at all but your little brother’s on track to become an Olympic athlete, that shouldn’t mean anything. You should not feel mightier or more insignificant than the people around you because of the ambitions you keep. You should live for yourself, for your ambitions, not for anybody else’s. It’s your life when it comes down to it, and living in constant comparison is a surefire way to feeling inadequate, even if you are someone who thinks their ambitions are grander than those around them. Someone who doesn’t compare themselves to others is a person who is very comfortable within themselves, and that’s a place I’m sure most of us would like to be.
As the first month of a new year draws to a close, sometimes you end up thinking about your ambitions more than at any other time of the year, and sometimes that leads to a lot more justification about why you’re doing the things you are and what it’s going to lead to. There are plenty of my colleagues who are asking me what’s going to come next, what I’m working towards. I don’t tell everyone I’m going to be an author one day because, for one, I write under a pseudonym, and for another reason, I’m a private person and I like to keep my ambitions mostly to myself. So a lot of my colleagues believe I must be in my current career as some sort of stopgap or as some way to reach towards something better. The truth is, however, I’m just working because it’s something I can do in the meantime whilst I work on my true ambitions. People often want you to justify your life, your decisions, but you don’t have to. Whether you have ambitions or not, whether your ambitions are going to change your life or they’re something you’re doing because you’re just trying to enjoy your time here on this earth, as long as you’re living in a way that brings you peace and satisfaction, then you’re the only person you have to justify yourself to.
Now, ambitions can be daunting. Sometimes having aspirations, whether you’re telling people about them or not, whether they are going to change your life or not, it can be overwhelming to see the path you have to take or to see how far you have to go. Sometimes, it can even be daunting to see how close you are. Ambitions can be a way to live by, but it’s easy to be frightened by them too.
It’s always important, I think, to keep yourself grounded. Knowing how far you’ve got left, whether it’s just around the corner or if there’s years left on your journey, that’s a way to keep yourself present. You don’t want to just live for the future, to see your current days as simply a point in time before you’ve reached where you want to be. Whilst you can spend every single day of your life working towards something, I think that sounds exhausting and there’s nothing wrong with sitting back, acknowledging how much time you have left before you achieve what you want to achieve, and letting your day pass you by. Ambitions can be magnificent, but you don’t want your life to revolve around a date in the future, that seems like it’ll make every step of your journey miserable, and nobody deserves to be miserable. I know I could be better at this and it’s something I’m working on. I am striving to be an author, but I don’t want the days between now and then to feel like a chore, that would be such a waste of this transition point in my life.
I also think it can be pretty disorienting sometimes to reach your goals, right? For some ambitions, ones that you may have been working on for years, even the better part of your life, once you get there, you can celebrate and then have this period of time where you’re thinking, now what? I’d argue that it’s important to bask in your success for as long as possible, really soak in the work that was put in and the reward that you received and, when it’s time, maybe start working on the next thing. It’s crucial, I believe, that you don’t constantly aim for something all the time, because that surely makes life all work and no play, and I wonder if that diminishes the goals you do achieve if you never let them sit for a moment, if you never let yourself embrace the ambitions you’ve reached. If that ambition of yours wasn’t the last thing you wanted to achieve in your entire life, then I’m sure there’s always something else you can reach for, but it’s important to let yourself be sometimes, it’s vital that you let yourself exist before you aspire to something else. And, just as vitally, make sure you’re reaching for your goals for you, not for someone else.
I hope, if you do have ambitions, that your January was productive in some way or another. And if it wasn’t, that’s okay too. Breaks and moments of peace are vital for making sure you aren’t just living for the future but that you’re enjoying your present as well.
If you don’t have ambitions, then I hope your January was as content as you wish it could be. Sometimes, there’s nothing better than feeling content.