Is ambition a curse? I wrote an article a few days ago where I tried to zero in on the actual things that matter as one navigates the path called life. I found this “one thing that matters” approach interesting considering that I write mostly about entrepreneurship, economy, and finance. Usually, the format is 5 steps to this or 7 steps to that approach to getting something done.
Most things are a process and even the most complex things can be broken down to easy manageable steps. So in dissecting life, I proposed that as a young adult, among several other factors such as family, upbringing, education, exposure, social standing, country of birth, and citizenship, ambition was the factor that contributed the most to achieving anything worthwhile.
I live in Lagos and travelled to eastern Nigeria over the Easter break. A friend was getting married and the traditional marriage had to be done in her father’s village. I thought that to be a cultural extremism considering that her parents were born, grew up and still live in Lagos. Why ship everyone in Lagos down to the east risking bad roads and accidents? The shipped were so many that they still constituted 90% of the attendance at that wedding. It is culture and I can’t question that. Or rather I will leave its questioning till another day.
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Back to my line of thought – we went, we came, husband marries his wife and everyone lives happily ever after. As we drove to and from Anambra, because of the traffic situation we sometimes had to make detours into remote villages or go through some villages right off the expressway. I noticed the simple lives, at least from a distance, of the villagers. I noticed their simple mud houses and three streams or rivers (my knowledge of geography fails me). There were kids playing in the water and some young adults washing clothes.
In the village we stayed in in Anambra, the air was clean and, save for the occasional sound of motorcycles riding by, all was quiet. There was no hurry and I felt my body system actually slow down to match the pace of its new environment.
We hit the road back and the closer we got to Lagos, the hotter the air seemed to be, the more hurried the drivers were and I could almost feel my heart beating faster. I started questioning why I couldn’t stay back in that village or relocate to my own village even. Why did I want to be successful? Why do I want to buy a new model Mercedes SUV? Why am I aspiring to own a house in an upscale neighbourhood in town? Why do I work hard to grow my business? Why am I not satisfied with revenues of N1 million? Would I be satisfied with $1 million or $1 billion instead? Why do I want my kids to go to Harvard, Yale, or Stanford? What is wrong with Unilag, OAU, and Covenant University? Why do I post only my nice pictures on Facebook and Instagram? Why am I bothered that this write-up should make sense? Why can’t I relocate permanently to the village I just came from, to be content to ride a bicycle, live in a small house, eat fresh food, breathe clean air and drink palm wine accompanied by bush meat all day long? Why can’t I be satisfied with being a farmer with two plots of farmland for growing vegetables? Why do I want the latest iPhone? Why do I even want a telephone at all?
I summed it all in one word: ambition. I am ambitious. I have been told I can conquer the world. I have been told to dream big dreams. I have been told I can do all things. I have been told impossible is nothing and I believed them. The embers of passion, desire, and belief were stoked by my parents, by society, by peer pressure and this fire has taken a life of its own, burning obstacles and all traces of unbelief in its path to get me where I want to be, to my desired destination. Herein then lies the danger. What I call the curse of ambition.
Fire to the man whose house was recently burned down is an evil. He forgets the same fire has cooked his meal for the past five decades, keeping him fed and healthy. Fire to the goldsmith or steel worker is his best companion, a purifier, an aide in his creation of flawless masterpieces.
In the same manner, ambition can be a tyrant or an asset. The village chap who rides a bicycle aspires to buy a motorcycle one day. He hopes to save enough money to reconstruct his house and make it more modern. He hears TVs no longer have “backs” and can be hung on the wall without falling. A miracle perhaps, he reasons. He is well-balanced and does not lose his peace or soul to get these things. This is not to say being overly ambitious is a way of life for urban dwellers only. No. Every community setup has its laggards, mainstream, and the driven. The succeed-at-all-cost mindset is more apparent and visible in urban centres.
So my final submission is that I still want a G-class but I will enjoy the Ford I currently drive. Yes, I want to fly business and first classes, but I am grateful I have opportunities in the first place to hop on a plane and go see some nice countries. I haven’t bought a house in Ikoyi yet but I think it a big deal I live in an area in Lagos that is completely traffic-free. I might not have Dangote and Otedola on speed dial, but I have “goons mi” that I can call and I know they will show up should they need to, regardless of the time of the day.
So, escape the snare and avoid the curse of ambition. Don’t let it consume you. Plan for a bigger tomorrow and stay ambitious, but also live and enjoy the now.
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