Thursday, January 22, 2004

So you bought it all, the best your money could buy. And I watched you sell your soul for their bright shining lie.

I wanted to write something about ambition.

I was watching a documentary about Johnny Depp, which was on the Biography Channel. He claimed he thought that "ambition" was a slightly scary word. It struck a chord with me.

I think that the trouble is that "ambition" is always linked to money, power and status. If you say your ambition is to be a millionaire before you're 40 then no one would bat an eyelid. Tell them your ambition is to live a fulfilling and blameless existence and the chances are you'll get a few strange looks.

Isn't the very concept of ambition slightly sinister? The moving up the ladder, the "getting on", the collection of personal wealth. The definition of ambition is something almost unachievable - something that is just out of reach but something to strive for. Then, going back to the on-going thoughts on consumerism, you get the ambition to own things - a Porsche, your own country estate, or something smaller like a new extension or a set of dining room furniture.

I guess that this kind of ambition links into the whole capitalist culture. Make unnecessary items appear necessary. Then people have to work to buy them. Even better if they are just out of your financial reach, because then you have to borrow to buy them. Once you're in debt there's no getting out of the rat race.

I spoke to a friend recently who has been offered redundancy with a £10,000 pay off. I was amazed that he hadn't already accepted it. He's a single guy. My thoughts were - take it, rent out your house, go traveling for a year and worry about a job when you get back.

Except he's in debt. Not a huge debt by modern standards but still in debt. If he were to lose his job then his first task would be to pay off that debt. Whether he's in a job or not, whether he's working or not - the debts come first.

He's locked in. I try to avoid debt as much as I can but like everyone I carry a certain amount. And like everyone I can't just up and move on because debt is a consideration. I don't blame my friend, myself ,or anyone else for carrying that debt. When you work nine to five the sheer mundanity of it all dictates that you need to splash out occasionally just so that life doesn't become entirely meaningless. Everyone needs some kind of treat. Otherwise you're working five days a week for what? Just to live. And in the end you're living just to work.

I think the happiest I have even been is living in a wooden hut on a Thai beach. Absolutely no mod cons whatsoever. Shared cold water showers and a squat toilet are easy to put up with when you live with the sand between your toes and a view of emerald waters and palm trees.

To have no ambition is almost a modern-day sin. To say someone lacks ambition is certainly an insult. But should it be? Take for example the guy who makes a reasonable wage. He is a craftsman. Promotion would mean leaving his craft behind and swapping his tools for paper work. It's highly likely that he wouldn't find the paperwork - whatever the monetary remuneration - nearly as rewarding.

But if he doesn't take an offered promotion is he written off in his employer's and society's eyes? Does he then lack ambition?

But doesn't lacking ambition equate to contentment? And isn't that what we are all trying to achieve? Do we have to put a monetary figure on ambition? Shouldn't the ultimate ambition be simply to achieve a state of happiness?

But that isn't the way society is geared. Take for example the current row about tuition fees. It's more debt. Debt controls. Debt cuts down your choices. To pay it off you have to strive to get the best paid job so you least miss that chunk that's taken out of your wage packet every month.

Then there's the obsession with home ownership. The rest of Europe is far more likely to rent but owning your own home is a UK rites of passage. Then you have that 25 year mortgage to lock you in as well. Must get on the property ladder, don't want to miss the boat, house prices are rising all the time etc etc. In addition, it seems that nowadays even the most meagere starter home is beyond the salary of your average single man. You want a house? You'll need to get married too.

There you go - a mortgage, a wife, probably kids before you know it. Better get some ambition about you and get a better job, start working more hours - all these things don't come cheap. Perhaps the wedding will be paid for, as is traditional, by the bride's parents. Chances are they are in their sixties but the cost of wedding will put them back in debt and ensure they continue working just that little bit longer. No rest for them either.

Perhaps we could all be more content with less and be less affected by the consumer culture around us? I have a motto that I nicked from Flowered Up's Weekender video: "Whatever you do make sure what you do makes you happy".

It seems simple enough on the surface but can anyone of us actually be sure what makes us happy? Maybe hard work, long hours and a 25 year mortgage is a small price to pay for domestic bliss and the chance to see your kids grow up?

And if that is what makes you happy then go for it. But next time you're lying awake on Sunday night dreading the next day at work, it might be worth reassessing everything. Ambition isn't always a good thing. And ambitious people shouldn't always be admired. Ambitious people by definition are not entirely happy and are certainly not fulfilled. Likewise those that appear to have no ambition might actually be the most content of all.

Like the late great Bill Hicks once said: "I'm just planting seeds. Hoping they may take root and grow."

Love, light and peace


I saw two shooting stars last night I wished on them but they were only satellites. It's wrong to wish on space hardware. I wish, I wish, I wish you'd care.