Amanda Berlin’s blog ‘Push Yourself’ asked a very intriguing question: “Can ambition and contentment co-exist?” She refers to Grechen Rubin’s book, The Happiness Project, as the source of the question, but Berlin talks explicitly about its impact on ‘embracing failure.’
Change agent gurus will certainly prescribe that a certain amount of discontent has to exist in order for change to take hold. Many Horatio Alger stories allude to a ‘hard knock life’ steeling the successful subject and making them what they are. Interviews with such rags-to-riches stories seem rife with desire for a ‘better life’ and to ‘escape the ghetto.’ So discontentment certainly *can* inspire ambition, but is it a *necessary* ingredient for ambition.
“Ambition is born of discontentment. By its very nature ambition requires that you leave the realm of contentment and strive for something more, something “better.” In The Happiness Project, Rubin strives to prove she can live her best life while being happier. So she says that her efforts to be happier actually emboldened her and made her more courageous in pursuing her ambitions and setting forth goals that would be a reach. She admits that by pushing herself and accepting, and embracing, failure, she did encounter a handful of setbacks. But, as is the goal I believe for the entire project, she was better equipped to handle the ‘failures’ because she was happier in general.”
So the conjecture seems to be that ‘failure’ (a set of circumstances that you are discontented with) *can* fuel ambition to greater contentment, and conversely, being content *can* make one better equipped to cope with failure.
My wife Lori and I certainly faced this question in raising our own kids. We both were raised in comfortable, but modest upbringings where there was always a roof over our head and food on the table, but not a lot of discretionary income. To us, aspiration for some of the ‘finer things in life’ were always part of the motivation for hard work and achievement. And when we got many of those things with well paying jobs, our own kids lived a much more affluent childhood. Then, we would be pushing and prodding them to apply themselves to achieve as well trying to reason with them about how important it was to work hard. One of the key arguments was so that they could have a quality of life when they grew up. But one could see the slight confusion rattling in their heads that went something like, ‘Sooo…you want me to forego enjoying this great, comfortable life I have now in order to instead labour hard right now so that many years from now I might, maybe, get a life as comfortable as this again. Huh??’ Reminded me of the great parable about the fisherman and the venture capitalist.