I have no ambition – is that a problem?

By Patrice Lewis

A few years ago, I came across a post by a controversial Christian pastor, writer and serial entrepreneur named Dale Partridge. The post was called “How Your Contentment is Killing your Future,” and the link has since been removed. However, I copied some of the content in which he wondered if our “healthy desire for contentment become an unhealthy desire for comfort.” He notes he and his wife had moved past contentment into being “stagnant, dormant, and latent.”

This man is a go-getter who became a millionaire by the time he was 30 (and guides other go-getters to follow his principles and become wealthy). As such, he puts great store in leadership, and using both leadership and the resulting wealth to minister to others.

He wrote: “You see, as leaders, we can often spend years working to reach the mountaintops of our achievements only to finally arrive, overstay our welcome, and die there in a state of comfort. … But what if God has something more for you? What if He’s just waiting for you to ask, to dream, and to see? What if more life didn’t have to mean more stuff? What if more purpose actually called for less comfort? Ultimately, my challenge to you is this: Is your life small because your vision was small? Has your desire for less lessened your life? Could your obsession for a simple existence leave you with a simple story?”

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We all have different gifts in life, and there’s nothing wrong with either leadership or wealth, as long as they’re used to the glory of God.

But the subject of ambition vs. contentment is an interesting one. A few years ago I was asked, by someone I like and respect, where I saw myself in 10 years. What, he wanted to know, is our (my husband’s and my) goal over the next decade? This question was asked because the gentleman is a business whiz and operational genius.

I replied that we were very satisfied with our present conditions. Our children have grown into fine young ladies. Our marriage is strong. Our farm is developing well. My “ambition” is to continue following the path we’re currently on, for the foreseeable future, as long as God permits.

But my questioner persisted. Surely we had some lofty goals we wanted to achieve? Didn’t we want financial wealth or societal acclaim? Didn’t we want to change the world in some way? As politely as I could, I said no.

This line of questioning happened years ago, and I’ve never forgotten it. Until questioned, I never realized I had such an utter lack of ambition.

The truth is, we DO have ambitions and goals, but they’re just not in keeping with the things corporate America values. Our biggest ambition is to continue working on the infrastructure of our new (to us) home to turn the property into a working homestead farm … and that’s about it. That’s as far as my ambition takes me.

“Ambition” is a relatively recent thing for the ordinary person. We’ve always had ambitious people, of course – history is littered with corpses from the ambitions of tyrants and conquerors – but for the vast majority of regular people, ambition took a back seat to mere survival. It’s only in the last few decades that our abundance and affluence has allowed so many people the luxury of career ambitions.

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Now, anyone who lacks ambition is considered odd and out of touch. But is it such a bad thing to be content with one’s lot? When did a lack of ambition become controversial?

I’ve never wanted a fast-lane sort of life, and while I understand some people thrive under those conditions, it would beat me down. I prefer a low-key lifestyle, where stress is minimized and contentment high.

I remember a “perfect” day about 10 years ago. It was late June, and I was sitting in the barn working on my laptop, writing a magazine article that was due shortly. (In nice weather, I used to do a lot of writing in the barn.) I was keeping an eye on a cow who was due to give birth at any moment. Chickens were all around me. The daisies and ocean spray were in full bloom. Later that afternoon I had plans to do dishes and laundry.

At that moment, dear readers, I realized that was about the extent of my ambition. That was where I saw myself in 10 years: right there in the barn. That was a moment of true contentment.

A couple of my favorite Bible verses underscore the downside to ambition. 1 Timothy 6:6-9 says, “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.”

And the verse that has become my motto, 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12: “… and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.”

One wise reader noted, “One man’s stagnant pond is another man’s Walden.” Another reader said, “I ain’t got everything I always wanted, but I’m old enough to know that I should be glad I didn’t get some of the things I wanted.”

Dale Partridge, in that now-deleted post, asked, “Is your life small because your vision was small?”

Yes. A thousand times yes.

The world needs leaders. The world needs wealthy people. The world needs ambitious people. But it also needs those of us who don’t harbor any of those goals and prefer to “lead a quiet life.” As long as it’s to the glory of God, it’s all good.

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