The Dark Side of Ambition

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a head full of lofty ambitions.

From a very young age, I not only craved fame but I believed it was my future.  I had no notion of doubt; I just saw myself as being a prima ballerina.  And author.  And actress.  And singer.  And in later years, I tacked on founder of a high-profile non-profit organization.  And graphic designer.  And fashion designer.  And yoga instructor. And vlogger. And back-up dancer for Lady GaGa. (apparently this is common for ENFP types – see Challenge #3)

Fast forward to present day and it seems I was wrong; I was clearly not fated to become famous in any of these fields.

As I grew up, I became acquainted with reality and the severe unlikelihood of any, let alone all, of these possibilities actualizing.  Though I realized this, a part of me still clung to my ideals.

I mean, “anything is possible” right?!  And if [insert celebrity] could get famous by [insert success story], then why not me?  And I was afraid that if I gave up on any one of my dreams, I would officially turn them from potentials into “nevers” with a permanent red stamp.

Recently I was listening to Spotify’s “Recommended Playlist” for me and was taken aback that one of the songs was by a band from my hometown.  I was struck by the fact that people from the same town as me had reached a quasi-level of fame (I mean, how cool is that?!).  Not only that, but I even knew two of the band members – twins who had been in the same ballet class as me the first year I started out.

I could hardly wrap my head around it. Back then, they were, well, kind of gawky and shy.  I’m not speaking negatively of them, it’s just that never in a thousand years would I have guessed that they would be established rock/punk musicians and performers a decade later.  Talk about not-judging-a-book-by-the-cover!

At first, I was purely flabbergasted.  But then my mood shifted to that of utter dejection at the realization that they were well on their way to being famous and I, well, was not.  I’ll admit to jealousy – they had opened for one of my favourite bands in high school and were currently touring the UK!

How dare they live out MY dream!!!

I’m from the same city, have wanted to be famous my whole life, love music, and was just as shy and awkward… what did they have over me?

Well, probably that they devoted their life to their passion and made it happen.

Amidst my outrage, I was able to bring one of my fatal flaws to my attention: I’ve never been able to pick a sole focus.  Even picking a favourite has always been hard for me – how do I pick just one movie? just one song? just one food? Picking one feels like I’m disregarding the elements that I love about other options.

But this has applied to my life decisions as well as just arbitrary movie choices.

I wanted it all, and it felt like I was squashing a piece of my soul at just the prospect of abandoning one of the grandiose future successes I envisioned.

I do believe that the mind of a human being has unfathomable power that, when wielded properly, is often the key catalyst to producing a desired outcome.

However, not every single thing the mind can conceive is actually possible.  It’s just reality.  I’m never going to meet Luke Skywalker because he’s a character in a movie and not a real person.

The same applies to the fact that I just can’t do/be everything (especially not all at once).

“I can do anything I set my mind to!” became “I can do everything I set my mind to!”  And I believed it had to be possible, because I believed in the power of my mind!  I was sure I could be a Jack of All Trades, Master of ALL!!!

Of course this was invigorating at first.  I mean, how awesome is it to visualize oneself in the future as a famous dancer, musician, actress, author, designer… tight rope walker, bobsledder, Nobel Prize winner (might as well throw those in, right?)

I couldn’t wait for all this to come to fruition… yet wait is all I did.  Though I’ve certainly had some awesome opportunities and ambition-related successes (I did actually start a non-profit for diabetes and eating disorders – it’s just not as well known as Red Cross…yet…), I am nowhere near the level of success I had envisioned reaching at my age.  Not only that, but it certainly doesn’t seem like I’m going anywhere major anytime soon.  These things take time, I know, but so much time has already passed… Tick, tock, tick, tock.

In comes the time-anxiety.  And every time, my tendency was to turn myself into a hyper-productive machine.

Must. Make. Most. Of. Every. Single. Second.

It was exhausting. And stressful.

What was motivating me?  It wasn’t an internal, passionate drive or intuitive pull towards “my heart’s inner calling” – it was a frantic scramble to reach my idea of success (and therefore happiness) in my life.

Throughout the years that the band I was instantly oh-so-jealous of was delving into their art and honing their craft, I was not.

Rather than living a life fueled by passion, immersed in the journey of being an artist, I was overwhelmed and crippled by the pressure I put on myself at all times.  I hated myself and my life; I constantly felt like I was going nowhere because I had such a high standard for what “somewhere” meant.  All this only perpetuated the anxiety and despair I was so desperately trying to eradicate and turned me towards self-destructive behaviours and addictions that sabotaged any steps I had taken – or would take.

Sometimes I can accept that what’s done is done, but most times so much guilt over all the years I “wasted” takes over –  guilt that sends me straight back to the hyper-productive state that leads no where but self-destruction.

It’s a vicious cycle and to be honest, not the most enjoyable existence.

despair (awareness of time lost + current life does not even come close to ideal + fear of future going nowhere) —> hyper-productivity —> overwhelmed by stress —> anxiety —> breakdown —> self-destruction

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Nowhere in this cycle did I give myself the time or space to assess what it is I really, actually wanted.

Sure, success and fame would be great.  But why did I allow the notion of success that I was so hung up on to completely destroy my experience of life here and now? And what was it that I was truly striving for that I thought reaching my ambitions would give me?  Financial freedom? Recognition?  Novelty?

I know money isn’t the only factor, and neither is fame itself (otherwise CEO or Prime Minister or marrying a rich celebrity would be on the list).  I’ve always been passionate about art and exploration.  So how come I no longer desired to create art for arts sake?  I was so caught up in the end not the means, the effect not the cause.  As a result, I completely blocked myself off from creativity – the very thing I loved in the first place – and lived rather miserably.

In order to reach what it is I’ve been looking for all along – being able to express myself creatively and experience the world at large – I have had to* let go of the preconceived idea of success/happiness that I’ve been upholding myself and my life to.

Cliche as it may be, life is about the journey not the destination, after all…

*am still working on

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