I drove home with a friend last evening; we were catching up after a long time. As it happens with people you have known for long, the discussion journeyed from comparing jobs, kids and hobbies to ambition. Something Maneck said during the course of the evening said struck me. He said he wanted to change the world!
Change the world, make a difference, leave a legacy…. Now I haven’t had that kind of grand, sweeping, idealistic thought in a long, long time! Maybe I have succumbed to the humdrum routine of day-to-day living or maybe nirvana has not happened to me yet.
Thinking it through, I realize that every time I have tried to set myself such any long-term goals, it has been a disaster of an exercise. When I set short-term targets that span 6-12 months, I find I am much more focused and geared towards fulfilling these. Of course, as it happens in life, sometimes you change direction as well, but its possible to look back and view your achievements in the light of what your expectations were, in the short-term.
Yet, the general message we get from the world around us (parents, teachers, peers, all play a role in getting this through) is that it is important to have a plan in life, a general direction in which we move and its best to have a burning, higher ambition. The sub-text is always that this will help us achieve success, which in itself is a super -loaded concept (I could go on and on about what success even means, but that’s for another day!).
For most people, ambition is interpreted as a more practical set of broad rules to live life by–like ‘I want to get rich’, ‘I want to save enough to buy a home’, ‘I want to see my children settled’ or ‘I want to perform on stage some day’. But to leave a legacy, in my view, it is important to look beyond the self-centered, material perspective and examine how your plans will change the lives of other people. For those burning to become successful entrepreneurs, this may be about introducing new products and services that impact people, or about building a successful corporation and benefiting future shareholders. For creative people, it could be about bringing audiences pleasure through music, dance, theatre, film, art….. For architects, it’s about creating spaces that are functionally or aesthetically excellent or innovative. Increasingly, many of us are highly motivated to impact what the economists call the ‘bottom of the pyramid’; find solutions to improve the lives of the poor.
Whatever it is that pushes your buttons, drives you, its impossible without the counterpart of the ‘ambition’- the action plan! It’s a bit like cities that want to become ‘world-class’ but have no short-term action-oriented guidelines to achieve that long-term vision. Sometimes, the vision itself is also not crystal clear and motivated by a competitive streak and not really by a desire to improve the lives of citizens (I’m wondering if Kamal Nath’s dream of a high-rise Delhi considers how this will impact the man on the street, for instance!).
For those of you who do have a driving ambition, I’m sure you are already on your way to translating this into reality through shorter-term targets. As for me, I don’t have the big picture yet, but I’m happy setting short-term targets and ‘going with the flow’. It’s hard, but I tell myself everyday that I am destined for greatness, and focus myself on the week, month and quarter ahead. Stick around for another ten years and I’ll tell you if it worked :)