“We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”( Joseph Campbell)
What is your ambition in life? This is perhaps one question most children would have faced in school. Some children (perhaps trained by parents) will give an answer matching the expectations of the teacher. However, there will surely be a lot of children who don’t have an answer as they are either yet to make up their mind or they may have more than one ambition. Teachers often get disappointed with such children as they think that having no ambition is a calamity and the child’s future is in peril. Such is our obsession with ambitions. Is life all about chasing an ambition set in school? How relevant is setting such ambitions very early in life? Is life all about choosing a career and working towards it?
Life is more than a career
When we ask “what is your ambition in life? to a child, we are under three assumptions. One is that without an early ambition, life is meaningless. Secondly, we believe that most children are capable of giving us a clear answer. Thirdly we think life is all about choosing the right career. There are problems with all these assumptions. In a majority of cases, children are not capable of arriving at a single definite answer as they are still exploring the options this world provide. Their ambitions may undergo several changes as they age and nothing wrong in that. Also in many cases, people do not reach the goals they set at school, resulting in much frustration and disappointment. They think that life has nothing more to offer as their idea of life happens to be a career and only a career can define them.
We are not advocating lack of ambitions or goals in life as a virtue. We must have them. But the issue is fixing early childhood ambitions before children start appreciating the big picture. We must keep in mind that life need not be tied down to only career accomplishments. Life is bigger than that and the only aim of education is not just a well-paying job. Getting into a successful career depends on so many factors and if all those factors do not work out, one may not reach his /her desired goals. Not everyone is blessed to make his/her passion a career or capable of excelling in what one chooses accidentally. Also, not every passion pays well either. On the other hand, there are always opportunities waiting for us at each point of our life from which we can choose and what is important is to become the best in what we choose. Almost anything becomes interesting when we pay sufficient attention to that. What is most important in life is that we become a person of character and integrity. Education is all about making us capable of cultivating higher tastes and refined character along with other skills. It’s about enabling us to experience the joy and riddle of life.
It is important to show the immense possibilities of life to children and if anyone is sufficiently good at something, survival is not much of an issue. There are some parents who want to achieve what they missed in their lives through their children. This is an unhealthy trend detrimental to the future of the child. As Gibran put it long back, children have their own thoughts and we should not thrust our thinking on them. We must create an ambience for them to dream bigger than a career and material advancements. Let them think about the kind of person they want to become and the different things they want to do in life. Let them cultivate curiosity and compassion. Life is not something that ends when you get a job or when you retire from that job. There are numerous people who start an altogether different career midway and flourish.
Don’t spend your days writing an obituary
As we have seen already, meaning or fulfilment in life need not be tied down to any single achievement. Life can still be lived without bogged down by a sense of disappointment or unfulfilled childhood dreams. British Philosopher John Gray in his beautiful work, The Silence of Animals debunks the relation between happiness and fulfilment of ambitions. He draws from Sigmund Freud also while reflecting on our obsession with self-realisation. According to Freud, the pursuit of happiness is a distraction from living. We are more likely to find happiness when we do not chase it. The human being is capable of flourishing in many ways. In such a scenario, fixing one single ambition is like thinking of your life as if it had already ended and none of us knows how it will end.
“Spending your days writing an obituary of a person you might have been seems an odd way to live “.
At any point of time, each one of us is negotiating our own balance sheet of hopes and realities and dealing with our own account of unfulfilled desires and failed plans. We need to keep reminding us that our happiness is not tied to a failed plan or unfulfilled desire. We are always presented with an opportunity to pick up the pieces and move on. Perhaps I should end this with what Stevens, the hero of “Remains of the Day “ by Nobel prize winner Kazuo Ishiguro tells us. The hero is a butler who was committed to his job and was always looking for perfection in his job. A person who could not even muster sufficient time or courage to disclose his affection towards a colleague. The novel portrays his long journey to see that former colleague who is now married and throughout the journey Stevens reflects on his long career and the lost opportunities. Towards the end of the novel, he tells,
“ I should cease looking back so much, and I should adopt a more positive outlook and try to make the best of what remains of the day. After all what we can ever gain in forever looking back and blaming ourselves if our lives have not turned out quite as we might have wished?”
Yes, many of our lives have not turned out quite as we might have wished. But it does not matter. Let us make the best of “what remains of the day”. There is a life waiting for us somewhere. Let us embrace it and live as if we have nothing to prove to anyone.