Ambition with Meaning
I love this quote, which opens and closes my latest book, The Shift: Taking Your Life from Ambition to Meaning.
The Bushman in the Kalahari Desert talk about two "hungers."
There is the Great Hunger and there is the Little Hunger.
The Little Hunger wants food for the belly; but the Great Hunger,
the greatest hunger of all, is the hunger for meaning...
There's ultimately only one thing that makes human beings deeply and profoundly bitter,
and that is to have thrust upon them a life without meaning...
There is nothing wrong in searching for happiness...
But of far more comfort to the soul...is something greater than happiness
or unhappiness, and that is meaning. Because meaning transfigures all...
Once what you are doing has for you meaning, it is irrelevant whether you're happy
or unhappy. You are content—you are not alone in your Spirit—you belong.
— Sir Laurens van der Post from Hasten Slowly, a film by Mickey Lemle
One way to get a handle on this idea of ambition is to view it through the four major archetypes that seem to identify us as we move from a more ego-directed way of looking at our own place in the world toward a more enlightened view of our own dharma, or purpose for being here, in this very body that we are in, at this particular time. Carl Jung often used archetypes to provide a visual representation and help clarify the various stages of life.
Discover the 4 major archetypes
The Archetype of the Athlete
Ambition in this first stage of life, which many people today never transcend, is focused almost exclusively on one's own body. This is the time in your adult life when your primary focus is on your appearance: "How well do I perform in contrast to others? How strong am I? How pretty am I?" Here, ambition is all about evaluating yourself on the basis of what your body looks like and what it can do, while most conversations revolve around yourself with an ample use of the pronouns "me" and "I."
The Archetype of the Warrior
In this next phase of adult life, ambition is centered on the ideas that dominate the warrior—conquering the world and emerging ahead of those who might get in the way. This is the time of goal setting, strategizing, studying and developing plans for how you will be victorious in life. The rest of the world, as viewed by the warrior, consists of those whom we must compete with; therefore, the warrior must always be in a state of preparedness for battle. The warrior studies hard, practices diligently, observes others for their weaknesses and only proclaims herself satisfied if she is vesting her competitors; everyone else is someone who needs to be vanquished in some way or another. Once again, this is an archetype that some live an entire lifetime and die in.
The Archetype of the Statesman
Where the inner ambitious mantra of the athlete and the warrior is, "What's in it for me?" Here, in the time of the statesmen, a major shift takes place and the inner mantra shifts to, "How may I serve?" Ambition is now about making a difference in the lives of others. Serving supplants greed. Redemption, grace, generosity and forgiveness replace the old need for competition, vanquishing and being number one at all costs. This third progressive archetype is where meaning begins to be felt. There's very little meaning in defining your life by comparing yourself to your appearances and the accomplishments of others. The statesman's ambition is rooted in making this world a better place for others and for those who will be here long after we are gone.
This archetype is best exemplified by the Native American prayer: "When we walk upon on the earth, we always place our feet gently, for we know the faces of our future generations are looking up at us from beneath the ground and we never forget them."
The Archetype of the Spirit
This is the time in your adult life when you finally begin to realize that you are not here as a human being having a spiritual experience, but rather it is the other way around: You are an infinite spiritual being having a temporary human experience. Here, your ambition has shifted toward the desire to portray your essential divine nature as pieces of God, if you will. We attempt to behave in the same manner that Albert Einstein reflected when he said that his one main ambition was to learn to think and act like God thinks. The only thing that the creative source of the universe does with its hands is give without any expectations of return. In the archetype of the spirit, one begins to recognize the presence of the soul—that invisible knowingness within that is only content to extend kindness, reverence for all of life, gentleness and, above all, love. So simply, God is love.
In this final archetype, one finally gets it that all of our ambition is in attempt now to live out this final truth, that whatever the question, love is the answer.
Dr. Wayne W. Dyer is an internationally renowned author and speaker in the field of self-development. He's the author of more than 30 books, including the New York Times best-seller Excuses Begone! How to Change Lifelong, Self-Defeating Thinking Habits and his new book, The Shift: Taking Your Life from Ambition to Meaning.