Raymond Finzel


Ambition is sticky. At one point I had it, but now I'm not so sure I do. I don't know if I have the stomach for ambition. I'd rather keep working in records, thanks.

Ambition is a will to succeed? An "an ardent desire for rank, fame, or power" (from Merriam Webster). Ambitious is how we describe politicians, actors, and CEOs. Ambition is desirable in a partner. Ambition garners status and praise. Ambition often disappoints.

"Rank, fame, or power." The traditional signifiers of success. The tricks we played on men to encourage them to take great risks and incur great rewards, with the greater good in mind.


Success is incumbent upon extreme singlemindedness and luck, or extreme luck and singlemindedness. In the modern world you must specialize to break out. The generalist is useful, but unrecognizable. You don't find internet fame writing a blog post twice a year and occasionally re-plumbing your home. You aren't recorded in the annals of history for your mediocre punditry and passable game of golf. You can't make buckets of money working part-time on your dream. Unless they have the great luck to be born into it, wealth and fame will not find the scattered and undisciplined.

Ambition is fuel for singlemindedness. It overrides the desire for a temperate life and forces the mind into the narrow channels that lead towards success. It coerces thought, justifies action, and encourages us to 'other' those that aren't on the same path. What do people have, if not things to contribute? Get on the train or get out of the way.

Ambition–success–needs you to know that you're on the right path, that whatever it is that you are doing is what you are meant to do, as if given instructions from above. This requires a certain arrogance to believe.

Pro-social(?) amathia

Ambition requires a conceited ignorance of the plurality of choices spread out before you. Your choice of occupation, of endeavor, of way of life– this is the one. If you haven't made a choice, then perhaps the endeavor is to find a perfect way of life, politic, or occupation, and you're dead certain that you can find it.

Amathia, designer of those lives too arrogant for reflection, a-mathia: “not-learning”, a stupidity uncured by education. Unwise, un-correctable, single-minded. Ambition sounds like amathia, applied.

The results of this amathic ambition can be tragic. Ambition kills. Every great leader, and especially every great murderer, had ambition. Amathia is what powers fascism; ambition a familiar, human application of pure fervor.

Of course, the results can also be incredible. Ambition may be the most beneficial application of ignorance that has ever existed. Without ambition we would have none of the great works of humanity. The ambitions to eradicate disease or contribute to human knowledge are worthy ones, and ultimately human progress is worth the chance of disastrous human stupidity.

Ambition, like tantric buddhism, is the short path by which success is attainable in a human lifetime. Shortcuts are dangerous, though, and amathia is the rut that carries the wheel off the hub. As such, tantra and ambition are not for the faint of heart.

What are we to do for those whose ambition carries them to the top? Is the premium on ambition too high? Are the great numbers of the ambitious diminishing returns?


Melancholy is the natural enemy of ambition. Sadness may occasionally inspire great art (or at least sadness may be a fashionable emotion to display in art), but sadness without ambition cannot compete in a world filled with discontent and drive. Sadness is the end of a struggle, the battle lost, the talent forgotten, the friendship over. To exist in total sadness is to exist without goals. Complete anhedonia is to exist without motivation.

Part of the draw of a city like New York or LA is that everyone is out there striving for something. People go there to prove something, to "make something of themselves," and find fame and fortune. This is all well and good, but for reference, actors make up .02% of the population and CEOs of publicly traded companies just .0006%. Still, if you don't think about it too much it's easier to ride the wave and strive for something of your own when there's actually a wave to ride.

Seemingly opposed are communities that excel at providing contentment. These places have strong communities, relaxed identity, good social services, and plenty of public hedonism.

These cities, like Minneapolis, Portland, or Boulder, offer something to the melancholic that the big cities can't: the consideration that just getting along and finding happiness is enough. Owning a small business, contributing something to a local festival, hell–even inviting some friends out to that local festival and enjoying the day–this is enough.


Bliss is on the other side of melancholy, and quiet goallessness the sensation of salience. Things as they are, the meanings laid bare. Comfort in uncertainty, for certainty is surely(?) the sign of amathic cataclysm, inchoate.

Eudaimonia, the good life, self-actualization, does this require ambition? Ambition, just as it is?

Temperate ambition, ignorance, un-wisdom, un-learning, paradoxically now a requirement for its own undoing.

How do we strive without ambition? How do we find meaning in sadness? What is achievement without rank, fame, or power? Is contentment enough?