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May 27th, 2009


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02:52 am - On Ambition & Purpose
Aaron & I were talking recently (a phrase that has served as the beginning for more than a few lj posts :)
We were talking about my being otherkin, and more specifically (as he put it) "what it's for", by which he meant what does being otherkin mean for & about my (or anyone else's) life. I fumbled for an answer for a while. The closest I have to one is this fascinating theory, which feels correct to me.

However, must of what Aaron meant was about the purpose of my life and his life. Aaron has always had a drive for his life to mean something, too accomplish something important & meaningful. I told him that his book has definitely helped people, and I expect that the next two books he's just started working on (which are on very different topics) will also be valuable. However, he was dissatisfied with what he's done, and that once again struck me as a key difference between myself (and also teaotter) and several people we know, including both Aaron, and to a thankfully lesser extent amberite - ambition.

By most conventional definitions, I'd effectively devoid of ambition. My goal in life is very simple – I want to be happy and enjoy myself. In large part, that what the (rather informal set of) rules that I live by are all about. For me, the only purposes of life is joy and experience. I do my best to do what makes me happy (which usually also involves making the people I'm close to happy, since having them be happy is clearly a major benefit to me) and to avoid things that make me unhappy. I'm doing fairly well at that, I have enough money, two amazing partners, & a job that I love. In addition to being an exceedingly self-interested individual, I also firmly believe that life (in general) and my own life in particular only has whatever meaning that the person living it chooses to give it. In fact, I find any other option to be rather horrifying – I have no interest in being a slave to some deity or cosmic force that is interested in promoting some agenda by using me as a tool.

Aaron is also concerned about what he leaves behind him after he dies, which is a closely related attitude, and also one that utterly baffles me. In addition to strongly subscribing to the sentiment in Woody Allen's famous quote ,"I don't want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying.", if I'm for some reason unlucky enough to have my transhumanist hopes dashed, absolutely the only thing I'm interested in leaving behind is a carefully cryofrozen corpsicle, since a small chance of at more life beats the heck out of none at all.

I'm quite pleased that some people have more ambition than I do, it's exceptionally useful to have dedicated doctors and emergency services personnel, as well as many technological advances that might not exist w/o ambitious people. However, none of that makes me want to do anything big. In addition to being far too self-interested, it's been by observation that ambition is often closely connected to being unhappy. Aaron, and several other ambitious people that I've known use unhappiness to motivate them, and find the sort of pleasant contentment that I strive for to be stifling, a fact that mostly find to be sad, since from what I've seen being ambitious often means being significantly unhappy much of the time. My preference would be for a society where everyone could do what they enjoy and no one would feel driven by unhappiness.

In any case, I'm exceptionally pleased to not be at all ambitious (just as I am generally quite pleased with my own preferences). I am curious both to know if my observations about ambition and happiness are more generally true (hence the poll below) and also to know if being ambitious or non-ambitious is something that you folks are content with or if you'd prefer to change it.

Poll #1406412 Ambition & happiness

I have

no real ambition beyond my own happiness and am generally happy
4(9.8%)
no real ambition beyond my own happiness and am generally unhappy
2(4.9%)
moderate ambitions beyond my own happiness and am generally happy
14(34.1%)
moderate ambitions beyond my own happiness and am generally unhappy
2(4.9%)
major ambitions beyond my own happiness and am generally happy
10(24.4%)
major ambitions beyond my own happiness and am generally unhappy
2(4.9%)
other (explained below)
6(14.6%)
tickybox!
1(2.4%)

Current Mood: thoughtfulthoughtful

(25 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:qos
Date:May 27th, 2009 02:15 pm (UTC)

A Bit of a Ramble. . .

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Your entry speaks to a lot of my own thoughts these days. . .

I have little to no ambition in the usual sense -- which is why I've spent my entire adult career in mundane office jobs when all the expectations were that I would end up as a lawyer or other professional.

It took a long time for me to understand that what had stood in the way of my "expected" career path was a lack of any drive for wealth, no interest in status/recognition that was not connected to something I actually cared about, and a basic ability to be contented with what I had.

Had I understood the realities of adult life better, I probably would have gone to law school, understanding that a challenging career would bring me more satisfaction and pleasure in the long run than the get-by jobs I've spent the last twenty years pursuing. But even so: my discontent in those jobs wasn't potent enough to spur me to take big steps to change my life. Not ones that stuck, anyway.

This issue has been very much on my mind recently as I approach the second anniversary of uncrowned_king's death. It is highly unlikely that I would be actively pursuing my spiritual direction practice if he had lived. His death was the catalyst for my finally finding a spiritual path that worked for me and deepened my personal practice to the point where it could ground a vocation. In the hell of the pain of his death, my spiritual work was what kept me going.

As I contemplate my loneliness, and my grief about having lost the partnership with him and _storyteller_, I wonder if I'll ever have a partner again -- not just a romance or a friend-with-benefits. And I wonder if having a partner would sap my current ambition. If I were comfy and content, would I want to work as hard at what I'm doing? Would my ambition be short-circuited by simple domestic happiness?

I don't know. Historically, I am less when I am in a romantic relationship. I put my energy into that, not into my own work, whether that be spiritual, creative, or career. I lose some of my sharpness. That was true even with uncrowned_king.

On the other hand, having found work that actually feeds my soul, which gives my life meaning (even though fame and fortune are unlikely), perhaps the satisfaction and happiness I find there would be powerful enough to offset the ambition-sapping nature of romantic-domestic happiness.

I don't know. I may never have the chance to know.

I do want meaning in my life, but that meaning is only tangentially related to ambition for me. Even if my spiritual direction practice never has more than a dozen or so clients, doing that work will be meaningful. I guess I am ambitious for that: for the meaning of it.
[User Picture]
From:heron61
Date:May 27th, 2009 09:19 pm (UTC)

Re: A Bit of a Ramble. . .

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I do not even remotely understand how what you describe could be preferable (or even remotely as good as) romantic-domestic happiness, but I am glad that you have found a way to live that works for you.

I do have one question: why does your life need meaning?
[User Picture]
From:qos
Date:May 27th, 2009 09:36 pm (UTC)

Re: A Bit of a Ramble. . .

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Hmmm. . . I guess I would say that it's a different kind of happiness.

If I had the choice between having uncrowned_king back and having my current path, I'd choose him without hesitation.

However, lacking his presence -- and having a history of romantic relationships that ended up in unhappiness and personal diminishment -- it's relatively easy for me to focus on the vocational path rather than the romantic-domestic one. I do miss it, however.

Why does my life need meaning?
The best way I can explain it is that I am happier and more satisfied when I pursue ends that I find meaningful. For me, that tends to take the form of the spiritual: not because someone else has told me that a spiritual life is "more meaningful" than one that is not, but because that's just how I've always been, ever since I was in early elementary school.
[User Picture]
From:kitten_goddess
Date:May 27th, 2009 02:28 pm (UTC)
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"moderate ambitions beyond my own happiness and am generally happy" If I do the same thing for too long, I get bored, which leads to unhappiness, of course. I have to have something to look forward to other than "more of the same for the next umpteen years."

My current ambitions are:

* Moving to the West Coast in May 2012

* Getting my editing accomplishment certificate (by summer solstice 2010)

* Getting a freelance editing/writing job in addition to my current one (after getting editing certificate)

* Traveling more (already being done)

BTW, do you have any openings at your company?
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
From:siderea
Date:May 27th, 2009 05:16 pm (UTC)
(Link)
For me: mu. Your dichotomy of ambition and happiness makes my head hurt when I try to think of the world that way. For me, happiness and ambition are so deeply wedded, that it doesn't make any sense at all to try to factor one or the other out. Also, the conflation of unhappiness and dissatisfaction doesn't work. I can be dissatisfied with things -- from how well the egg I'm frying turned out to how my life is -- and still fundamentally happy.

Also I'm not sure what to do with your implicit paradign of the extent of ambition (big vs little). Are you describing the scope/number of people impacted by a desired aim, or the ardency and urgency of it's pursuit? Or the other-oriented-ness (vs. for oneself).
[User Picture]
From:heron61
Date:May 27th, 2009 08:40 pm (UTC)
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Also I'm not sure what to do with your implicit paradign of the extent of ambition (big vs little). Are you describing the scope/number of people impacted by a desired aim, or the ardency and urgency of it's pursuit?

Mostly the first, but from what I've seen, there seems to be at least some positive correlation between the first and the second.
[User Picture]
From:slothman
Date:May 27th, 2009 06:15 pm (UTC)
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My real ambition is my own happiness, but I have empathy for other beings and consider it in my own interest to make the world a better place for all of them. So while I have a lot of ambitions to change the world, it’s mostly to get all these annoying obstacles like poverty and war and human suffering and environmental devastation out of the way so I can go off and hang out with friends and read books and play games without having to worry about dreary phenomena intruding on my own fun. (Simply ignoring the dreary phenomena isn’t an option; I know perfectly well that I am part of a heavily interconnected system, and if we don’t address these problems, they will eventually affect us all, directly or indirectly.)
[User Picture]
From:dancinglights
Date:May 27th, 2009 06:47 pm (UTC)
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My major ambition, as distilled as I can manage in words, is happiness, understanding, and a sustainable positive connection to the rest of this ball of rock hurtling around the sun and everything on it... for as many people on this ball of rock hurtling around the sun as I can possibly influence. It involves a lot of practice, living by example. And thus, with occasional bouts of crippling disappointment, my own happiness.
[User Picture]
From:waterfire741
Date:May 27th, 2009 08:14 pm (UTC)
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Is it strange when your major ambitions are only really understandable by combining consciousness expansion, gravitational singularities, and enough hyperspatial mechanics to give Stephen Hawking a fit?
[User Picture]
From:heron61
Date:May 27th, 2009 09:38 pm (UTC)
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I'm right there with you, but it's also pretty clear to me the initial upgrades will be designed, created, and installed in me by others, and so I consider those to be hopes (for achievements made by others) rather than actual ambition.

OTOH, after I reach the status of being an immortal post-human hyper-intelligent being, then I definitely have a few of my own ambitions, which ones I go for will depend upon the relative feasibility of interstellar or parallel world travel.
[User Picture]
From:helen99
Date:May 28th, 2009 02:07 am (UTC)
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Funny you should post this. Earlier today I had a thought that went something like this:

"Cinnamon lowers cholesterol, and Turmeric is purported to have qualities of life extension... Many spices, herbs, and elixirs have curative or beneficial properties. But what good are they? People in countries that use a lot of spices still die. I want the spice that makes you not die. In Europe they drink gallons of red wine with resveratrol in it, and they still die. If the spice isn't blue, then why bother with it..."

[User Picture]
From:heron61
Date:May 28th, 2009 08:28 am (UTC)
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That's an excellent point. Wrt supplements and suchlike, my thoughts are all about keeping me going until we get actual life extension therapies, and honestly genetics, luck, (and avoiding foolishness like smoking or eating really badly) are more important than anything else.
[User Picture]
From:helen99
Date:May 28th, 2009 12:11 pm (UTC)
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One method to gain affordable and perhaps immediate access to the therapies would be to participate in legitimate scientific studies. This would also assist the therapies to move beyond the experimental stage so they can be covered by insurance companies, which would hopefully be delighted to be relieved of paying for age-related illness and pay up. Of course, there's a risk involved with participating in studies, but there may come a point where the risk is outweighed by the possible benefit. I wonder if any such studies exist.
[User Picture]
From:tlttlotd
Date:May 31st, 2009 06:33 am (UTC)
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Unknown. Little reliable information has been found since March 19 1998.
[User Picture]
From:heron61
Date:May 31st, 2009 07:53 am (UTC)
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That's a curiously specific date, what happened (or ceased happening) then?
[User Picture]
From:tlttlotd
Date:May 31st, 2009 05:37 pm (UTC)
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That is when monitoring those avenues of research began. Little practical information has appeared as yet.
[User Picture]
From:tlttlotd
Date:May 31st, 2009 06:34 am (UTC)
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And somehow, we wound right back at "Hey, y'all, watch this..." :)
[User Picture]
From:xi_o_teaz
Date:May 27th, 2009 08:49 pm (UTC)
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I have moderate ambitions that include my own happiness, and am generally happy.

I like your ideas, but I think that I can be both ambitious and happy, and actually have my happiness connected to my ambitions. I was actually just commenting on how I pursue my ambitions whilst still staying happy. Another key not mentioned in that post is the ability to Let Go if my ambitions should not pan out. I.e., not staying Attached to the outcome, but still pursuing things that will increase my happiness even more.
[User Picture]
From:kitten_goddess
Date:May 28th, 2009 04:08 am (UTC)

@xi_o_teaz

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"the ability to Let Go if my ambitions should not pan out. I.e., not staying Attached to the outcome, but still pursuing things that will increase my happiness even more."

Thank you for explaining what Let Go actually means. I had always heard that Let Go means resignation and submission to some deity or other.
[User Picture]
From:geek_dragon
Date:May 28th, 2009 12:00 am (UTC)
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I definitely have major ambitions beyong my own happiness: i have vowed my life to have an impact on society and industry so that it's more environmentally friendly. Save the trees, save the eco-status-quo!

If I'm healthy, I'm generally happy. I also get really frustrated too. Sometimes I'm confused, sad, depressed, angry, and upset.
[User Picture]
From:erelin
Date:May 28th, 2009 12:07 am (UTC)
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For me, I *need* ambition in my life. I'm addicted to it- and honestly, I can't understand not having ambition.

And yet, I am quite happy where I am at. I have a wonderful partner, I can provide for myself, and I have a lot of fun. I don't really need more than that- in fact, I could do with quite a bit less. That actually makes my ambitions somewhat difficult- even when you are ambitious, it's hard to get over being simultaneously content.

So what drives my ambition? That I could do so much more. I could be so much more. I full believe that I can change the whole world, and that really no one can stop me if I want to. Why waste that?

I don't see happiness and contentment as exclusive, because while I *want* my huge dreams to succeed, my happiness isn't dependent on their success. I find the stress, the new ideas, the workload to be exciting, thrilling. That makes me happy. Moreover, I recognize that because I dream big, I am more likely to fail than if I only wanted little things. That's okay, because I know that no matter what I can survive my situation. So I set big goals, big dreams, and knowing full well they might crash and burn, go for it anyway. And it's so much fun!
[User Picture]
From:roniliquidity
Date:May 28th, 2009 03:04 pm (UTC)
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It should be noted that it's not necessarily my ambitions making me unhappy, but none the less it would be dishonest to say I am "happy" in any sort of context right now.
[User Picture]
From:tlttlotd
Date:May 31st, 2009 06:31 am (UTC)
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I have a great deal of ambition, but little actual ability at realizing any of it.

My life is defined not only by what I do, but what I leave behind. I don't want to be the person who dies and leaves a basement full of inventions behind to be thrown in the dump. While alive, they may have done some good for people; when dead, people treat them as quaint toys and discard them without inquiry (I cleaned out a lot of left-behind houses, can you tell?).

It is all too easy for someone to vanish from the world without leaving a trace. If they did so, would they have existed? If no one remembers you, does anything you did make a difference?

I grow tired of hearing that things "were always this way" when they damn well were not - someone's blood, sweat and tears went into them, and to hear people dismiss them burns my blood.
[User Picture]
From:heron61
Date:May 31st, 2009 07:52 am (UTC)
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I grow tired of hearing that things "were always this way" when they damn well were not - someone's blood, sweat and tears went into them, and to hear people dismiss them burns my blood.

Well said indeed my friend.

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