Am I ambitious enough?


Freelance journalist Anneke Bots is pretty content with the way things are. She doesn’t have any career plans or future goals. ‘Is it a lack of ambition and, if so, is that really so bad?’ she asks herself.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with ambition. It ensures that you take action. Nothing happens without ambition. So basically, it’s a good drive that gives you the power to achieve things. An aspiration to grow, to improve and move forward. Fine, it’s how we develop. But ambition has also become a loaded word, career jargon. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines ambition as ‘an ardent desire for rank, fame or power’. That makes me think of elbow grease and a ruthless drive. But you can define ambition differently, says social psychologist Barbara van der Steen: as a dream or wish. Straight away that sounds a lot friendlier.

Anyway, the ‘ambitious seed’ is planted early. Even earlier these days. In my time at kindergarten, I had little more to do than color in pictures. Try doing that nowadays. My children had to sit their first national school exams in prekindergarten and kindergarten, and it was quite a serious business. The desks were pushed apart to prevent the preschoolers from cheating. These tests are the first in a life full of exams, diplomas and certificates. A life filled with parents encouraging their children to get good grades (yes, I do that, too), because don’t you want the best for your child? And the better their grades, the more choices they have. The world is at their feet, they can become whatever they want: doctor, journalist, artist or inventor. Or seek happiness on the other side of the world. The sky’s the limit.

That’s a great luxury and wealth, but it also demands something from us, Van der Steen notes. “For many people, it is a struggle to think of what you want,” she says. “And a responsibility, because if you don’t achieve what you wanted, it feels a bit like it’s your own fault. After all, everything is within reach, so obstacles are mainly in yourself.”

  • Read the full story ‘Am I ambitious enough?’ in Issue 33.

Text Anneke Bots  Photography Cathryn Lavery/