Ambition to Vision: From “More” to “All”
It is only a few people, who have made it to a certain level of success in their life, whose desires get labeled as ambition by someone else. But everyone is ambitious in his own limited ways of thinking. A beggar is also ambitious, a rickshaw puller is also ambitious. It is just that right now he is driving someone else’s rickshaw, and his ambition is to someday own his own rickshaw, which is not a small jump; it is a big jump in his view. He thinks he is just thinking of his needs and he looks at you and thinks you are ambitious, but it is not so. He is also ambitious in his own limited way. Compared to you, his desire or ambition looks so limited, so it seems to be categorized as something different, but it is not different.
A Larger Slice of Life
Ambition is essentially a longing within a human being to somehow have a little larger slice of life. No one is free of this. Everyone is looking at it from their own context, of course. How they are trying to achieve it may be different for different people. Someone may believe that money is the way to achieve his larger slice of life. Someone else may believe power is the best currency to do it. Someone may believe knowledge is the only way. Someone may think love is the way. Someone may think corruption is the best way – that is also a substantial category, we cannot ignore them!
The currency may be different from person to person, but there is no human being who is not longing to be a little better than what he is right now. This ambition is not the problem, because it is very natural for every human being to strive to be something more. The scale of the ambition is the only question.
Sometime ago, I was addressing the House of Lords in the UK. The subject we were talking about was “Sustainability: Is Consciousness The Key?” When we look at the way our ambitions are designed and structured right now, if you look at the larger world, everyone is aspiring for whatever they think is a better way of living. Today, a lot of people across the planet are aspiring to a lifestyle similar to that of an average American citizen. Every nation is trying to provide that for their people. The Living Planet Report – which has become an authoritative source of ecological information – says that if seven billion people on the planet achieve the lifestyle of an average American person, we will need 4.5 planets. But we have only one. This kind of ambition is self-destructive. It is going to lead us to a disastrous situation. When we carry on with this form of ambition, we can only wish that at least half the people should never succeed. If someone comes to you, you must be able to freely bless him with success in whatever he desires, but now the way it is going, we have to wish, “Let them fail.”
In 2008, when I went to the World Economic Forum, everyone was in deep depression because the recession had just hit. Everyone was carrying a long face and many chins were dragging on the floor. They gave me a subject to speak on – “Recession and Depression.” The room was full of people, and everyone wanted to know how to beat the depression. I said, “Recession is bad enough, you don’t have to also get depressed now.”
Right now, the way we have structured our economic system and the way we are driving the economic engine on this planet, if we do not succeed, we will be depressed. If we do succeed, we will be damned. So I said, “I prefer that you are depressed.” It is better that you are depressed than damning the world because with what we are aspiring for, if we succeed, the world will be devastated for sure.
It is very important that our ambition comes from our intelligence, not just from imitation. Today our ambition is, someone has done this much, we want to do that much. If someone has done that much, we want to do more than that – it is an endless process. This kind of self-destructive, self-defeating ambition is not a good thing.
Ambition to Vision
The bane of the world is just that human beings are working with limited individualistic ambition. Instead of working with ambition, if people work for a vision of their own, a deeper vision of life for themselves and for everything around them, their ambitions would never be in conflict with anyone else’s vision, because fundamentally, all human beings are working for human wellbeing. It is just that the scale of how you handle human wellbeing may be different from person to person. For one person, human wellbeing may just mean one’s own wellbeing. For another person, it may mean one’s family. For another person, it may mean one’s community, or one’s nation. For another person, it may mean the whole humanity. There is no one on this planet who is not concerned about human wellbeing. It is only a difference in scale.
If every human being, instead of working with an individual ambition – which is bound to be in conflict with someone else’s ambition – if we work with a larger vision, then there is no need to scale down anything. Anyway you want wellbeing. All I am saying is, why are you stingy about your desires? Why don’t you be magnanimous? Why don’t you be infinite in your desires? It is not just about “I want to be well.” “I want the whole world to be well. I want the whole existence to be well. I want all life to be well.” Be really greedy with your ambition. Whatever is your ambition for yourself, extend that to the whole of humanity or to all life forms on this planet. Then there is no need to scale it down. I am telling you, up it, don’t bring it down. Right now the problem is that you have brought it down.
When we say ambition, ambition is just an exaggeration of the existing. When we say vision, as the word suggests, it is about a new possibility – something which is not yet. Ambition is about wanting to take as much as we can take. Vision is about making everything yours. One is an aggressive way of taking it, another is an embrace. Trying to take a piece of the world, and making the world yield to you willingly, are two different dimensions of life.
All this philosophy, is it possible for a businessman? It is very much possible and not only is it possible, it is especially needed for a businessman because business is about expansion. Does expansion happen because of inclusiveness or does it happen because you forcefully take something? If you forcefully take something, you will never expand to your full capacity. Only if you learn how to make the world yield to what you want it to be, can you take it all. Ambition is about more, vision is about all.
There is a beautiful story in Indian lore. A monkey goes into a house and finds a jar full of nuts. He puts his hand inside and takes a handful of nuts. It is a very narrow-necked jar so his hand will not come out – it is stuck. The monkey has to let go of some nuts, but it is ambitious. It cannot let go of even one nut. He pulls and pulls, but the hand does not come. Then, another wise monkey comes – some monkeys are wise, you know. The wise monkey says “This is not the way. Leave the nuts.” And together they overturned the jar and all the nuts fell out. We have to move from “more” to “all.” If you journey from “more” to “all,” that means you have travelled from “ambition to vision.”