Cromwell, I charge thee, fling away ambition:
By that sin fell the angels; how can man, then,
The image of his Maker, hope to win by it?
– Cardinal Wolsey (Henry VIII: Act III, Scene 2)
What is the most ambitious thing you have ever done?
In late 2005, I drove fourteen hours away from everything that was familial and familiar only five days after my college graduation. With no home, no work, no friends, no family, and no idea, I had been convinced by someone I had only seen in person for less than two weeks to spend Christmas with her and her immediate family. Armed with only a dream to go to grad school, I agreed to go with her. Only five days later, I asked her to marry me. Maybe that was the most ambitious thing I’ve ever done. I’m sure her saying, “Yes!” under the night sky in front of the boardwalk in Santa Cruz was the most ambitious thing she’s ever done. I’ll have to ask her.
Ambition drives us and moves us. It can fuel us to pursue a goal or dream that no one else sees except us. For that reason, it almost always requires from us everything that we have to offer. It calls us to examine ourselves and capitalize on the potential within us to bring to reality this dream. For that reason, ambition can sometimes turn to arrogance or pride without too much persuasion. I used to think that desiring to be an ambitious leader required so much faith in myself that there would be no room for humility or humbleness; that in order to achieve the dreams that God has put in my heart I would have to ignore or neglect His call to serve and to love and to be meek.
I WAS WRONG.
It turns out that being ambitious and leading ambitiously creates the perfect environment for humility. Sanders has gently reminded me that, “when our ambition is to be effective in the service of God – to realize God’s highest potential for our lives – we can keep both of these [ideas: ambition and humility] in mind and hold them in tension.” It is within this tension that I have begun to realize and learn how little I know. God is showing me how much, or how little, I rely on Him and yet, He still invites me to join Him in the work that He is doing. In that tension, God reveals, sometimes gently and sometimes sharply, how ill-suited we are for a number of things. And yet, in those places, His quiet voice reminds us that the call to live with an honorable ambition has never been an easy one but it is a worthy one. We are all called to develop our God-given talents, to make the most of our lives, to develop to the fullest our God-given powers and capacities.
May we fling away, not ambition, but fear. May we embrace our highest potential for the service of God in His redemptive work in this world. May we ask humbly, learn deeply, and act boldly. Live and lead with a humble ambition.