“Failure is not an option…come on son… push harder..” This kind of talk works well in the gym. A lot of the motivational books out there try to tap into this hunger for attaining success. “Ask yourself, how badly do you want it. Imagine it, feel it, touch it, savor it… Now get to work!” There’s this hype in the world where people are taught to succeed but very few people are taught how to fail. Between success and failure we have people falling into a deep state of complacency and those who are driven mad by ambition. There are people who are constantly told that ‘they can’t’ and others who are constantly told that ‘they must.’ Some people reach a point where they just can’t seem to get anywhere, others are getting somewhere but are still not satisfied. Is there perhaps a way in between these two extremes? That’s what we’ll be exploring now. How do we find a balance between the risk of falling into complacency and being driven mad by ambition?
There were times in my life when I felt a little bit of complacency would have done me well. Maybe I just needed to sit around for a bit and idle. That’s typically never been the case for me. Then there are people I know who do nothing but sit around day to day and seem perfectly fine living without a plan. Where would you place yourself? Are you more complacent than ambitious or vice versa? If you live your life with a plan and you are constantly placing objectives that you need to accomplish then you are ambitious. If you live life without a plan and you more or less just go with the flow, you’re probably complacent. At the extremes there are pros and cons to both modes. Sometimes, however, you might be more complacent than ambitious and other times more ambitious than complacent.
A complacent person is often also a victim. They define things as happening to them, often for no apparent reason. They tend to go with the crowd and more often than not they are prepared to give in to others. They don’t always have their own agenda or plan for themselves and are happy to just ‘be.’ Complacent people benefit from never really having to take responsibility for anything and they are likely very easy to get along with. They do well with social cohesion and for as long as things aren’t too bad, they’re usually content with life. It’s often quite relaxing to be around people who are complacent when things aren’t spinning out of control. They’re terrible to have around when things aren’t going well. They often play the blame game and are not keen on finding or working towards actually solving any problems. The down-side to people who are complacent is that they are often dependent on people who are ambitious since they rarely are capable of looking after themselves. In nature, one who isn’t proactive normally dies. Complacent people harness powers of manipulation to latch onto ambitious people from whom they get their share. When they are too complacent they usually are nothing more than leeches on society, and that’s not a good thing. They tend to focus more on rights than responsibilities because they usually get from society more than what they are prepared to give and as a result they take strong issue with the ambitious crowd.
The ambitious person thrives on control. The ability to plan and meet deadlines is central to achieving anything of significance. You seldom find a very successful person who doesn’t also have a home and a family. The ability to plan presupposes some form of stability. Often that stability comes in the form of a stable home, a stable economy and usually a stable government. If you don’t know where you will be one day to the next then you can’t make long-term plans and expect it to come to fruition. In long-term planning people often rely on ceteris paribus– a term often used in Economics implying that the basic assumption is that all things remain equal. Ambitious people love stability and the ability to make certain basic assumptions so that they can focus their attention on other things. However, for that stability to exist ambitious people often veer towards being ‘control freaks’ because they simply cannot trust the initiatives of other people to maintain the necessary stability that requires progress. If you grew up in a home where education was prioritised you might’ve experienced parents who demanded routine and strict boundaries. You might’ve felt that they were ‘over the top’ and that they stifled your creativity. Incidentally, much of the average person’s success can be attributed to such parents! However, the risk of becoming chronically depressed, driven by the next objective and never being sure what it’s really about, looms heavy over the heads of the overly ambitious. Ever afraid of having an empty to do list in front of them and then having to contemplate the existential problems of their lives, they hastily populate that list again.
There’s a healthy balance between the two extremes of complacency and ambition that must be found within the individual and society alike. Truth be told, complacency cannot exist without ambition neither can ambition find its purpose without complacency. The person who contributes the value of finding a place of peace is as important as the person who builds that place. The person who builds the bridge is as important as the person who gleefully walks over it everyday simply enjoying the sun. One hand washes the other, one temperament balances out the other. Every ambitious father strives to carve out a happy existence for his children who aren’t very productive to begin with. Every mother works tirelessly to provide the necessary care for her kids without getting anything tangible in return. Productivity and achievement is the furthest thing from anyone’s mind when playing a game, and yet play is extremely important. However, for the game to exist ambitious people come together and build another tennis court or soccer pitch. For the happy home to exist, hard working people spend huge sums of money on buying and building up properties. For safety to exist, people expend huge efforts on ordering society, building fences (if needs be) or training in combat. In fact, for freedom to exist, people spend time on making rules. It is the irony of life. The opposite of a thing is often as important as the thing itself. The wise amongst us know how to walk in the middle.