Most people would agree that ambition is an essential trait in today’s society. However, recent events have shown that sometimes other factors come into play and can challenge our ambitions.
Richard Olivier, the son of the famous actors’ Sir Laurence Olivier and Judith Ploughman, had the ambition as a child to be the greatest actor in the world. But one morning having a morning cuppa, he realised that he couldn’t even be the greatest actor in the family kitchen. Olivier Jnr accepted this reality and changed his ambition. He became a Shakespearean actor, then codified his skill and knowledge, applying it to teaching masterclasses about leadership, based on Shakespeares’ plays.
In a leadership masterclass based on Macbeth, Olivier uses the example of Prince Malcolm fleeing to England after Macbeth murders his father King Duncan, to be a lesson in ambition. Malcolm is under suspicion for the murder, so he flees to England.
Despite the unjust accusation, Malcolm does not immediately raise an army to avenge his father’s death and clear his name. Olivier points out that he is tempering his ambition. Eventually, he gathers his forces with the support of McDuff, they dispose of Macbeth, and Malcolm is crowned king.
The origin of the word ambition comes from the word ambit, meaning circuit or circumference. Both ambition and ambit derive from the Latin word ambire, meaning go around, canvassing. In medieval times, the ambit was the boundary of a kingdom. A couple of times a year, the king and his court would make their way around the ambit to keep things in order. At different times the ambit increased, and at times got smaller.
However, if the ambit got too big too quickly, then the king couldn’t get all the way around to see all his peoples, and he could lose control.
On the other hand, if the ambit got too small, then the kingdom could no longer support itself. In the case of Malcolm, his ambition was related both to him canvasing loyalty, as well as how far he could extend his influence in reclaiming his kingdom.
Curiously, both of the derivatives of the world ambire have such a relevance today. Over the last months, our personal boundaries have been curtailed, including our ability to go around canvassing. And in many instances, this has had an impact on our ambitions, both in our business and private lives.
The important lesson is that having ambition is not enough. Sometimes it is essential to moderate that ambition per circumstances.
As we come out of the restrictions and look towards the future, what are your ambitions?
What is your long view of the future?
What are the other commitments do you have that might be compromised?
Is the timing correct?
And the biggest question:
What do you really want? What are the most essential things in your life?
Ambition is essential, but unbridled ambition at the wrong time can be dangerous. If it goes awry, then all the king’s horses and all the king’s men might not be able to put us all back together again.
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