“And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully.” (II Timothy 2:5)
After discussing Ideals it seems right that we should next consider her sister, Ambition. They are much alike, yet they are very different. Ideals are mental pictures, which, without the aid of ambition, and that stronger characteristic yet, Purpose, would remain upon the walls of your mind until they faded away with age, and would never change the course of your life. But ambition comes in with eager desire and strives to make these pictures come true in life. Ambition is the ever seeking that which is just ahead and out of reach. To her who is following after ambition there is no stopping, no lying down, no being quiet; but she must pursue her dreams and force them to come true. She sees no chance of failure if she strives.
We generally speak of ambition as eager desire for preferment, honor, or power. She who is ambitious desires the best for herself. She wishes to rise high, to accomplish things, to be useful, and to be a person of some account in the world. Stagnation and uselessness she abhors. There are two kinds of ambition. The one is right and just, and a necessity to the growth and development of any person. Without right ambitions life must be a failure. This ambition makes a girl want to bring out the best that is in her. She who is fired by these desires will work and labor and study that she may advance, may grow in learning and ability. She is not thinking particularly of outstripping others, but of going to the highest point possible for herself. She is able all the time to appreciate the efforts and successes of others, and rejoices in their advancement. Such ambition can never be wrong.
But the other ambition rises from a different motive. The desire is not so much for goodness and excellence in themselves, as for the honor and praise such excellence might bring. Such ambition is satisfied with that which is inferior if it only surpasses what others have. In fact, this ambition feeds only on the failure and discomfiture of others. She who possesses it wants to outshine her peers, to rise higher, to be more in the limelight than the rest. This ambition will cause a girl to steal, or even to sell her honor, that she may have means to clothe herself better than others. And they who are fired with this unholy ambition will not shrink from perjury and falsehood to put down one who is opposed to them or promises to outstrip them.
Every girl’s ambitions run more freely in certain directions. She who lives on a lower level is ambitious to be pretty, witty, and attractive. She is busy trying to win the praise and flattery of her acquaintances, to be thought the most beautiful, the most attractive, the best dressed, the best liked, the most-sought-after girl of her set. And if she gains her goal and realizes the fullness of her ambitions, she has but a handful of husks for her reward.
Other ambitions rise to a higher level, and the girl moved by them seeks to have ability in some useful and remunerative occupation. She seeks to become a nurse, or physician, a businesswoman or teacher, or to be a good housewife and mother. These are all good, noble callings, and if followed after with honest ambition and purpose will bring usefulness and happiness into her life.
But the highest ambition asks that the life of our girl be given for the good of mankind, that she be of all the service possible and in the best possible manner. If this ambition is linked with a life wholly given to God, then all her life will be indeed worthwhile.
Now we come to unrequited ambitions. We look upon those things that have been desired and attempted but never attained or accomplished. If these disappointments could all be brought together into one great pile, the mountain would fill all the earth. Here is the girl who wanted to go college but had to begin teaching school, the boy who wanted to be a doctor but was forced by circumstances to keep right on at the farm work, the man who in youth desired to be a great traveler but who has never been out of his home state, the woman who wanted to be a great writer but whose hands are busy only with the cares of an unappreciative household. Few there are indeed who have been able to accomplish all they desired, and whose ambitions have been realized in life.
But this picture is not all dark. Youth is so short, and lacks so much in experience, and is able to look only one way, and therefore is liable to mistakes. The ambitions may be running in directions that are practically impossible of accomplishments, or may be ambitions which, if realized, would not be the best for the individual. So it is well that over us a wise Providence guides and directs, suiting to each one of us the path that is ours through life. It is only when ambition dies and we cease to care or try that our lives become useless.
Suppose the fire hidden away in the furnace should go out because it cannot realize its ambition of setting the mill on fire! Or suppose the mainspring of the watch should break because it cannot become the hands or face. Mill and watch would stop; for these hidden forces held so resolutely in check are what move them. And so the life that seems to be hampered and held back from doing what is in it to do, may be the very one that is furnishing force for others to work upon. Let ambition burn; never give up; fight against the odds that are against you, and you will grow stronger for what you have conquered.
I would have you ambitious so long as your ambitions are just and noble, but I would not have you rise by putting others down. If ambition should die in youth, or if youth should lack ambition, the wheels of progress would stop, all the wisdom and knowledge of the world would grow dim and pass away, and man would sink to his lowest level. But so long as the eye of youth is fired with those inner flames of ambition and purpose, and there are fields of knowledge and understanding yet to be explored, that long will the world’s work move on unhindered.
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