Can ambitious individuals achieve contentment in life?
Recently, during a friendly conversation, I was asked by one my friends if I was content with my life. Subconsciously, I found myself whispering the following questions to myself: "Am I really contented with my life? Can ambitious people such as myself find contentment in their lives?"
To answer these questions, I ventured into a deep contemplation about contentment and ambition.
According to various dictionaries, contentment means being satisfied with one's life, while ambition is having an earnest desire for some type of achievement or distinction, such as power, honor, fame or wealth, and the willingness to strive for its attainment.
From the above definitions of contentment and ambition, a couple of essential questions enter our minds. Does ambition lead one to become dissatisfied with the state of one's life and subsequently discontented? Is it possible for one to accomplish the complex and tedious task of achieving the balance between being ambitious and attaining contentment in one's life?
As ambition gears one to strive for perfection and perfection is hard, maybe impossible, to achieve in real life, contentment could become an elusive goal that would lead one to chase a shadow of a dream.
In the search for rational answers that would put my mind at ease, I began to explore the correlation between ambition and contentment -- and the possibility that they contradict each other -- with people I knew. I asked the same questions that I subconsciously whispered to myself to each one of my acquaintances and friends.
Frankly speaking, most of them were bewildered and perplexed by my sudden questions. They thought that I was getting too philosophical for their taste. Nevertheless, they obliged and answered my unexpected and unusual inquiries after I clarified by explaining to them the circumstances that led me to delve into this issue.
The majority of those with whom I explored the issue emphasized that it was normal for them to feel dissatisfied with one aspect of their lives or another, but that didn't mean they were discontented.
Upon requesting further elaboration, they stated that for most people, it is impossible to attain satisfaction in every domain of their lives. However, they learned to embrace that fact and come to terms with it.
As for being ambitious, they stressed the fact that ambition means different things to various individuals according to priorities in life.
Some people are ambitious in their careers, leading them to exert extra effort to climb the ladder of success, while others strive to lead happy lives with their families and friends. Religious individuals direct their ambition toward attaining spiritual awareness.
Regarding the correlation between ambition and contentment and the possibility that ambition may stand as an obstacle to achieving contentment, their views differed to a great extent.
Some of them believed that extreme ambition may deter people from being contented, misconstruing contentment with being complacent. To illustrate their points of view, they mentioned the fact that extremely ambitious people have the tendency to compare themselves to those who achieve extraordinary success while failing take limitations and shortcomings into consideration.
They emphasized a factual truth of life -- there will be someone more successful or happier than you are. Therefore, a person may spend life in a futile competition that leads to deep despondency over being discontented.
The other group thinks that one must be reasonable and rational in defining the targets of ambition, making it possible to achieve contentment in life.
They stressed that people must be realistic enough to examine their capabilities and limitations before establishing the boundaries of ambition. That would lead a person to attain goals in life and subsequently achieve contentment.
Few stated that we should be aware of the fact that most people seek contentment in their lives and hence they direct their ambition toward attaining that goal.
As for me, living among Chinese and Egyptian people during various phases of my life taught me to embrace life with all its joyful events and lamentable tragedies.
Finally, I came to the conclusion that I need ambition to improve the quality of my life. However, I must be realistic in establishing the targets of my ambition.
Did I succeed in attaining a balance between my ambition and achieving contentment in life? In some cases, the answer is yes.
Now, it’s your turn to ask yourself the following questions: "Am I am content in my life? Does my ambition prevent me from achieving contentment in my life?" You could even open up a discussion with your friends about the correlation between ambition and contentment, and share your findings with the rest of us.
Sava Hassan is a Canadian Egyptian educator.
The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and don't represent views of China Daily website.