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Summer #5: Mixing up a cocktail of ambition
PLUS: relaxing your own rules, the guilt of rest, and a recipe for a delicious peach lemonade.
This week, I packed up for another backpacking adventure. This time, it was a short but surprisingly intense overnight along the salmon river in the Mt. Hood National Forest.
Backpacking is an endurance sport and, like most endurance activities, there comes a point somewhere towards the middle or end when things feel painful and you can’t get this thought out of your mind: “Why am I here?”
Where does ambition come from?
Most people who know me would describe me as ambitious. I often question whether this is a positive attribute or not. I’ve known plenty of ambitious, accomplished people who seem to be deeply unhappy. When it comes to other people, it’s easy to see when ambition seems to be papering over a deeper void; it’s harder to recognize that in yourself.
But ambition isn’t that simple. There can be many factors that mix together into a sort of cocktail of motivation. Here are a few that I’ve recognized in myself:
Curiosity. Sometimes I simply want to see what something’s like, whether I can do it, how it will turn out, or how hard it will really be.
Vision. This is the root of many creative projects. I have an idea in my mind and am excited to bring it into the world. The difficult part here is making this motivation last through the tough parts, as it tends to fade without constant tending.
Desire to learn and improve. Sometimes I want to get better at something or acquire a new skill or perspective.
Fun. A challenge can be like a game, and there’s a joy in winning, even if you’re only playing against yourself.
State change. There are certain difficult situations or practices that profoundly alter your state of mind. This can be a temporary state or a more permanent one. There is some kind of perspective shift due to the difficulty itself.
These are all rather healthy ingredients in the cocktail of ambition. But there are a couple more that are not quite so useful:
Scarcity. A feeling that I don’t have enough, am not doing enough, or can’t provide enough for other people can motivate me to do more.
Insecurity. Finally, there is personal insecurity. This is a belief that I have to earn my self-worth through work and accomplishments.
These last two are powerful but toxic. Consume too much of them, and you start to believe that they are the only ones that matter, that without anxiety you’d never get anything done.
Instead, I think the challenge is to find a new mix of motivation, by adding more of the healthy ingredients and less of the harmful ones.
For me, that means cultivating my curiosity, my willingness to improve, and my sense of adventure.
On a creative level, it also means building the discipline it takes to see projects all the way through, to carry a vision out to the end when things get tough rather than leaning on a fear of failure.
Head, Heart, Hands
Things to make us think, feel, and do.
We have a dopamine problem. There’s a lot of weird folk wisdom floating around about dopamine these days.
How to relax your own rules, a very helpful guide for the chronic perfectionist.
HGTV is making our homes boring and us sad, one study says. You have to add a massive grain of salt to any headline that end is “one study says”, but I found the idea of the “market-directed gaze” when it comes to our homes pretty interesting.
Recipe of the week: I made this ginger peach lemonade, and it is absolutely lovely over ice on a hot day. I’m drinking some right now.
Lucy is settling into her new home, learning to play, and has discovered her voice. She is now barking at anything and everything she hears. We’re working on it.
She also met her cousin-dog, Murdoch. She was terrified of this little cream puff at first, but they settled in and fell asleep on the lawn after a lot of sniffing. She’s a good girl.