Overwhelming Ambitions

If you had asked me last year whether or not I had any lifelong ambitions whatsoever, my answer would have been a resounding “No.”

I was content to go with the flow. Rather than ask myself “Why?”, I’d ask myself “Why not?” and leave my life to coincidence and circumstance — whether I turn left at the stoplight or move forward always depended more on the color of the light than my final destination. If I took pictures for the rest of my life, if I taught, if I found a way to become Bollywood’s third highest-paid costume designer, I would be fine with it.

Over the last year, something’s changed. Suddenly, I’m filled so much pent-up ambition I might just cure feline leukemia.

Especially since resuming my lifelong love of reading, I’ve decided that I want to simultaneously absorb the whole of human knowledge and change forever the course of human history, be my role known or unknown.

This untethered ambition frustrates me, because I won’t achieve nearly that much.

Life is too short, and too hugely impermanent. Billions of us have born, lived and died without having made a notable scratch on the flow of aeons, except as a member of the aggregate flow of things. To wit, within a few short hundred years — say, about the time my oldest grandchildren die of old age — even today’s major national figures only might make a footnote in high school history texts. Today’s Martha Stewart, John McCain and Colin Powell are tomorrow’s Emily Post, John Tyler and George McClellan, the former group having as little immediate relevance as the latter does today.

This overwhelms me every time I think about it. There’s a Ceasar, a Mozart, an Euler every few hundred years, each chosen by world-encompassing lottery. To make it all the more awesome — in the archaic sense — the lottery takes into account by equal measures the uncontrollable forces of nature, nurture and good, old-fashioned luck.

If so few can really make more than a dent in the path, why should a school photographer and credential program dropout achieve this? Why should I feel the need for greatness when I’ve only just started learning adequacy?

I blame it on my youth. I’m so far not burdened with children and a mortgage, and my day job is temporary by every connotation. There’s too many roads open to me, and though I want to explore every possibility and permutation, I know I have to keep going forward, without backtracking.

Knowing this, then the longer I live, and the more choices I make, exponentially fewer possibilities remain. The next three years will make all the difference in the course of my life — the pressure is almost maddening. By that same principle, I console myself, it’s only a matter of time before unharnessed ambition becomes the exception rather than the rule.

I’ll succumb to reality in a few short decades. I can only hope that by then I’d have put my ambition to good use.

  1. Ancient Bearded One

    Don’t forget what Tom Leherer once said about considering the great people of history:

    “When Mozart was my age he’d been dead for two years.”

  2. That line has so much more meaning, now, even despite being divorced from its original context.

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