Early morning, and the sun is rising over cars on the freeway. All of us commuters, waiting in traffic. Four lanes of cars, headed to work.
I’m sitting in my car drinking coffee. I look to the right, see a lady peering into the rear-view mirror, carefully applying makeup to her eyes. Look to the left, see a guy glancing up and down from his phone.
News blaring on my radio. They’re talking about nuclear war. They’re talking about global warming.
At work, students stream into my classroom from the hallways. They’re laughing, they’re joking, they’re running around. When the bell rings, they groan. They sit down. Four rows of students, sitting in desks.
Sit up straight. Put your phones away. Quiet.
Ambition is a virtue in America.
Purpose, less so.
We’re all trying to get somewhere, without being entirely sure why we want to be there.
I remember one time I sat down for a meeting with a boss, it was a performance review at an old job. We talked about my role and about the future. I expressed an interest in taking more of a leadership role.
He said, that’s great. What do you want to lead? In what direction would you have us go?
I had no idea.
Ambition without purpose.
I realize that many commuters on the freeway are perhaps driven neither by “ambition” nor “purpose” but survival. Gotta put food on the table. Gotta pay those bills.
Punching the clock. Caught on the wheel, no escape in sight.
Others have managed to rise above, find a creative balance between work and hobbies and community and relationships. Some people carve a meaningful corner out of life, and live it to the fullest.
You don’t hear much about those people, because our culture celebrates different values.
Distinguished students. Award-winners. Millionaires. Celebrities.
I’m not bashing excellence. Our lives are enriched by the contributions of motivated individuals.
What corrupts the soul is striving to be perceived by others as excellent, rather than excellence being a byproduct of innate passion and goodwill.
Those lines can be blurred, no doubt. It’s hard to parse bundles within the psyche.
Everyone charts their own path. Blind ambition isn’t the only way to lose yourself. And there’s a million ways back to finding yourself anew.
Here’s hoping for courage in the difficult, but always valuable, work of self-reflection.