Ambition and Contentment

What is it about the human spirit that itches the inside of us and drives us to look beyond where we are right now toward some blurry-eyed future, probes us to keep climbing and reaching for more, to keep creating, inventing, dreaming, brainstorming, vision-casting, striving and risking in spite of the joys and possibilities all around you in your present circumstances?

It’s been a few days or more since I’ve sat down to write something.  After a little while of not writing, two things happen. The first, I don’t miss it.  I slip into the routine of daily life like a favorite pair of blue jeans, usually wearing my favorite pair of blue jeans, and I cook and clean and garden and fold laundry and think about making homemade Christmas presents.  It’s wonderful.  It’s immediate.  They are dozens of moments to savor.

The second reaction after not writing for a few days or a week is this anxious twitch in my brain.  Sometimes it is flicked to life by the joys of the day, a thought or meditation or prayer, a realization, a moment with my children or husband, and I dance with excitement for a pen or the quiet of an evening in front of the computer so I can get it out.  But there are other moments when anxiety wells up.  If I’m not writing, I won’t have anything new to revise, and without anything new to revise, there’s nothing sharpened and tuned to a finished version, nothing to submit to journals, nothing to be rejected or accepted, nothing to be published, nothing to be recognized, nothing to add to a growing resume of publications.  But to what end is all of this?  To what end, when the anxiety detaches the writer from her life, from her family and friends, and leaves her carefully studying her own accomplishments?

It is so difficult to put a stopper on personal ambition in the presence of contentment.  Ambition is a buzzing fly around my picnic lunch.  I just want to enjoy my italian sausage and watermelon. 

And yet.  And yet.  I love to write.  I love to utter whatever notion fluttered through and landed for a spell so someone else might read it and feel something, experience something, have that tight part in their chests softened a bit.  I want to be used to touch people’s souls.  Is that too much to ask?  Coupled with the actual writing is wanting that writing to be read, and that rubs shoulders with pride and recognition, then vanity and arrogance.

How do you buttress yourself against conceit and vanity while still pursuing your dreams and goals?  How do you stay humble enough to receive grace to share truths eloquently?  How do you push forward with enough drive to achieve your goals but with enough restraint to avoid sacrificing your family along the way?  It seems like there is a constant need for reflection and assessment: how are the kids?  How is my husband?  What self-care am I doing?  When was the last time I saw my friends?  How much of my time is spent wondering when I’ll receive my next acceptance/rejection?  How fully have I invested in navel gazing lately? 

On the other hand, it is the buzzing fly of ambition and curiosity that has provoked men and women throughout the ages to create and consider objects of wonder and stories of life that touch the hearts of men and women throughout the ages. Is it wrong to want to be a part of that legacy?  No, but I do not want to neglect the legacy I leave my family in the process.

Someone buy this gal a set of weights and measures.  I got me some balancin’ to do.

Published by Sarah M. Wells

Sarah M. Wells is the author of The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Gospels to Help Kids and Parents Love God and Love Others (2022), American Honey: A Field Guide to Resisting Temptation (2021), Between the Heron and the Moss (2020), The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Bible to Help Kids and Parents Engage and Love Scripture (2018), Pruning Burning Bushes (2012), and a chapbook of poems, Acquiesce, winner of the 2008 Starting Gate Award through Finishing Line Press (2009). Sarah's work has been honored with four Pushcart Prize nominations, and her essays have appeared in the notable essays list in the Best American Essays 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, and 2018. Sarah is the recipient of a 2018 Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council. She resides in Ashland, Ohio with her husband and three children.

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