Part 2: How to think Differently about Ambition

For most of my life, as a strategic, high vision, high drive, first born son, I have lived in the potential of tomorrow. I have often felt like a veil between my life and how I live, as I am going through the motions and living life but not feeling fully present. Relationships are the things that this impacts the most, which breaks my heart. I often feel like I am only 70% present wherever I am, not fully present. For some of us, our minds, emotions, or hearts aren’t fully present because they are stuck in a trauma or regret of the past limiting our ability to be holistically present. For me, for most of my life, there is a percentage of my mind and heart that is living in tomorrow.

There is an ancient Chinese quote that says, “If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.” For me, living in the future hasn’t looked like typical anxiety. In my life, living in the present has looked like responsibility. It has looked like urgency, pressure, and the weight of potential. I have felt this low grade weight most of my life. I feel the weight of stewardship that feels like responsibility.

I read Luke 12:48, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” and I am like, yeah, I feel that. The irony is that this verse is right after Jesus’ teaching on not worrying. Verse 25 and 26 say “ Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?”, And then in verse 34 Jesus says “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

My anxiety, my heart, has too often reflected my lack of trust. My lack of trust being his beloved, being enough just as His son. My heart has reflected that I have placed too much value in, that I have treasured, what I can accomplish. That I have treasured the potential of tomorrow. That he already made us right and nothing I can do more or less will change that. That worrying about provision or stewardship of what God has entrusted to me points to my control, my fear of not being in control, and therefore my lack of trust. My focus on stewardship has kept me in the future and affected my ability to enjoy his peace in the present.

This is where I have missed the peace, the freedom, that comes from the present. The peace that Jesus made possible.

So, I processed with my spiritual director, what do I do with my ambition. I can’t turn off my drive. I feel an incongruity here that I don’t know what to do with. I don’t know how to reconcile the pressure of achieving future goals and the desire to be fully present in the moment.

How my concept of time is connected to my ambition is what I am processing since my directors insights. How ambition when connected to the future is hurtful, however present-minded ambition is possible. These are some of my takeaways.

  1. Ambition and the Present

We talked about how ambition, when not carefully managed, can lead to instrumentalizing the present solely as a means to achieve future objectives. This approach can result in missing the value of relationships and experiences in the present moment, causing a sense of disconnectedness. The potential to instrumentalize relationships for yet to be achieved objectives. The priority of relationships connected to the potential to accomplish something, not for the priority of enjoyment or connectedness alone. Bingo. This is my reality and has come up in every 360 assessment I have taken as a leader, which makes me sad.

2. The Present as a Gateway to the Future

Now, if I see the future as a non-real construct of time, with history-informed present as the only reality, then look at how that affects ambition and relationships. If I trust God with whatever is ahead in my life, then I can embrace the present. Check out what this allows. This allows me to recognize God's presence unfolding through subtle clues and patterns. To be more aware of the Spirit. By paying close attention to these cues, the future transforms from an abstract construct in our minds, or from my preconceived plans, into a dynamic interplay of actions and choices made in the present moment. My plans for tomorrow might be in the way of the potential God is unfolding, by providing a construct of what I should do which might be limiting. Embracing the present enables us to respond more nimbly to the promptings of the Spirit to live into his purposes not my own.

3. Productivity and God's Grace

In a productivity-focused world, we often measure success by achieving predefined goals. However, shifting our perspective can reveal a deeper understanding of productivity and God's grace. Productivity is more correlated to relational experiences which can only happen in the present, and less on the potential accomplishments of tomorrow, of which relationships are often in the way of or competing against. By training ourselves to recognize God's presence in each moment, we become the first to notice and appreciate the way God skillfully and patiently works, which is in the present. This awareness enhances our ability to witness and share the marvel of His grace with others.

4. Unleashing Present-Minded Ambition

I want to understand and unleash present-minded ambition. That is why my director was pointing me to first understand the construct of time and how it affects our lives. By reflecting on the construct of time and recognizing the power of being fully present, we can break free from the chains of time that confine us. This newfound freedom enables us to embrace ambition in a more mindful and purposeful way. Trusting God with tomorrow, we are able to experience the unfolding of his grace in the present, one moment at a time.

Ambition and how we perceive time are linked. By being fully present, embracing the wisdom of the past, and trusting in the unfolding present, we can navigate ambition in a way that aligns with God's purpose for us. Embracing present-minded ambition allows us to lead a life rooted in gratitude, compassion, and a profound appreciation for the divine presence in every moment. Let us embark on this journey of self-discovery, allowing ambition and the present to harmoniously intertwine, creating a life of purpose, fulfillment, and contentment. Starting with today, right now, because the present is the only thing that is real.


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