Ambition and Success

Chapter VIII

Thwarted by Ambition

All about us we see people who seem to have no special zest in life, no great enthusiasm for anything; there is a great disappointment somewhere in their lives. Why are they so unhappy?

No one loses his interest in life, or becomes indifferent to his work unless he has been thwarted in the carrying out of his ambition, or for some other reason has been unable to find his right place in life. Wherever we see discontent, unhappiness, unrest, we may be sure that the person exhibiting these conditions is a round peg in a square hole, or has not been able to realize his dreams. For some reason his heart has been cheated of its ideal. A thwarted ambition seems to wrench the whole nature out of its normal orbit.

There is no suffering, except remorse, so fatal as that which comes from the consciousness of blasted hope, stifled aspiration. To be conscious that one possesses decided ability for some particular calling, and to be compelled by circumstances, year after year, to be chained to drudgery which the heart loathes, requires supreme courage. To feel that there is no probability, or even possibility, of ever being able to express that great hungry longing, pent up in the heart, filling it almost to bursting, to drag through the weary years trying to be cheerful and hopeful and helpful to those one loves and yet to feel that his devotion to them has made the other thing impossible to him, to suffer in silence disappointment which makes the heart sick, is the greatest test of real manhood or womanhood.

It is very easy to criticize other people who have not risen in the world, as perhaps we have; but they may be heroes compared with us. We can never tell what tragedies may be going on in their hearts, or from what tortures of disappointed ambition and blasted hopes they may be suffering. To be compelled to go through life without any possibility of satisfying the great soul hunger, of realizing the infinite longings of the heart, is torture. There is no compensation for this except from the sense of duty done to others who would have suffered had we tried to realize our ambition.

I know a beautiful woman, of charming personality, who has a great musical talent, a superb voice and yet, she scarcely dares mention the subject of music in the presence of her husband, who flies into a passion at the mere suggestion of her developing her wonderful talent.

All of her friends think it is criminal of her not to use her great gift but she feels forced to smother her ambition. Her husband, although well able to meet the expense will not consider her taking lessons or making any effort to improve this God-given talent. The result is a blight is setting on this woman’s life.

She tries to be cheerful and to do her duty; but those who understand her can see the slow strangulation processes going on, which is undermining her ambition and destroying her health.

I recently heard through a piano dealer of another woman of great musical talent who with money bequeathed to her purchased a beautiful, longed-for piano. Her husband made life so unbearable to her because of it that she returned it to the makers, who, appreciating her position, generously returned to her the money paid them for it.

Is there anything more cruel than to strangle a talent which was intended to be a perpetual joy as well as to give us success? Is there anything more wicked than to murder a divine ambition, to destroy sacred aspirations; anything more cruel than to make a human being miserable who is intended to be happy, to rob one of all possibility of doing that which she was made to do? Yet there are thousands of husbands who are doing this, and they wonder why their wives are not always buoyant and bubbling over with vivacity and life, why they are not always cheerful, hopeful and resourceful.

Many husbands do not mean to be selfish in their home life, and really believe they are generous, but their minds are so focused upon themselves and their ambition that they can only think of a wife in reference to themselves. Whereas the highest love has the highest welfare of the individual at heart, not its own.

Ambition often blinds one to justice.

There is nothing more pitiable than to see a man the victim of an inordinate, selfish ambition to advance himself at all costs, to gain fame, or notoriety, or pleasure, no matter who is sacrificed in the process.

Many women have a marvelous way of hiding their griefs, covering up their disappointment; but such disappointment may mar the whole life.

There is something so utterly discouraging, disheartening, in being forced to give up the careers they long for, that the nature never entirely rallies from the shock. Everywhere we see these burned-out shells of individuals who have been robbed of their normal pursuit. They are ambitionless, restless, ineffective weaklings, mere pygmies of their possible selves.

Ella Wheeler Wilcox gives some wise advice that the dissatisfied and unhappy man or woman whose ambition has been thwarted may heed to advantage.

“Do not waste your vitality in hating your life; find something in it which is worth liking and enjoying, while you keep steadily at work to make it what you desire,” she says. “Be happy over something every day, for the brain is a thing of habit, and you cannot teach it to be happy in a moment, if you allow it to be miserable for years.”

There is a powerful tonic in holding the conviction that you are in the world for a purpose, that you are here to help, that you have a part to perform which no one else can take for you, because every one else has his own part to fill in the great life drama. If you do not act your role, there will be something lacking, a want in the production. No one ever amounts to much until he feels this pressure–that he was made to accomplish a certain thing in the world, to fill a definite part. Then life seems to take on a new meaning.

“Few of us,” says Sir John Lubbock, “realize the wonderful privileges of living; the blessings we inherit, the glories and beauties of the Universe which are our own if we choose to have it so; the extent to which we can make ourselves what we wish to be; or the power we possess of securing peace, of triumphing over pain and sorrow.”

We go through life with our eyes steadily fixed on some distant goal, straining every nerve to reach it. We pass on our way opportunities innumerable of helping others over rough places, of brightening and beautifying the commonplace life of every day. But we see them not.

Man was made for growth; to realize peace, poise, satisfaction.

An ambition to be a man, to stand for more in the community, to push our horizon farther and farther away from us, to think a little higher each day, to think a little more of ourselves, to have a little more faith in ourselves and in everybody else, an ambition to be of real use in the world is an ambition worthy of the man God created, and cannot but bring happiness to the individual.

In the white light of history, before the tribunal of justice, we shall not be judged for what we seem to be or have achieved, but for what we are and by what we have tried to do.

In the judgment of this tribunal, from which there is no appeal, many failures will be approved as successes, and many successes will be adjudged failures.

It will be easy to find the story of some boy who remained on the farm and helped pay the mortgage, stifled his ambition in order that the favorite brother might be sent to college, and thereby scored a much greater success than the one for whom the sacrifice was made.

The girl who smothered her longings for a higher education or sacrificed the prospects of marriage and a home of her own, in order to take care of her aged parents, and was not known outside of her little coterie of friends, may have her name recorded far higher on the honor roll than that of the sister who went to college, or became a great author, musician, artist or actress.

In imperishable characters there will be inscribed on the success roll of honor names unfamiliar to most of us, the names of those who nobly performed humble parts in life; the unknown workers for humanity, the heroic sufferers,–some blind, some crippled or handicapped by the loss of hands or feet, or tortured by incurable diseases,–who, with a fortitude equal to that of the martyrs of old, took up life’s burdens and bravely made the most of the powers and opportunities bestowed upon them by the Almighty.

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