Ambition: Friend or Foe?
The qualities of ambition, strong work ethic, and determination are universally regarded as virtues that, if fostered, will guide us to success in our professional lives. Whether it be through writing or teaching, I often find myself promoting the importance of finding personal inspiration and drive. However, in today's society, in almost every imaginable profession, it seems as if somewhere along the way, we have let dissatisfaction and pressure intermingle too deeply with our ambition. It almost seems as though a determination to be the best walks inevitably with discontent and frustration. How many of you finish a case and find yourselves criticizing your work, practically searching for each and every imperfection? I know that I find myself wrestling with these feelings on a regular basis. Certainly, some level of self-critique is vital; that is how we grow and improve. However, as I continue to learn, it becomes ever more apparent to me that there's a point when this voice of distrust in ourselves can cause more damage than good.
Earl Denman, a mountaineer and author of Alone to Everest, writes, "I grew up with an ambition and determination without which I would have been a good deal happier." Reading this sentence I can't help but feel frustrated. How could ambition and determination—two qualities that I had always revered as admirable and that led the man to undertake such a brave endeavor as climbing Mount Everest—cause unhappiness? At the same time, I'm sure most of us find some personal truth in his statement. The question then is how can we, as driven, hard-working, passionate professionals, allow those characteristics to help us to improve without sacrificing our own happiness? The answer certainly is not a simple one, and certainly not one that I profess to have completely resolved, myself. However, when I reflect on this dilemma, I find myself thinking of the reasons why I care so deeply for my work. I think of the joy I see on a patient's face when they are happy with their new smile. I think of the bright, young individuals in the audience of a lecture eager with questions and comments. I think of all the ways that our industry has grown and continues to grow both technologically and artistically through the hard work of such talented and devoted individuals. These are the reasons why I am determined and ambitious and why many of us are so passionate about what we do.
We all strive for perfection, but we can't lose sight of what is truly important in what we do. Critique your work, not yourself, and that way you will find improvement. Don't be frustrated with imperfection; be energized by a new challenge. Don't let your ambition and determination bring you down; find pride and satisfaction in the passion that inspires you to do your best work.
Peter Pizzi, MDT, CDT