Aspiration vs. Ambition

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To be successful at most things you have to have ambition.  If you don’t want it, then you’re never going to get it.

Let’s say you’re starting off and taking ballet (something you all should do, especially if your goals are remotely physical in nature).  You come to class, do the plies and the rond jambes.  You stretch, follow everything the instructor says, eat well, etc.  If you do all of that you can still end up good.  As long as you have a good instructor and put in the hours, you will likely end up as a good dancer.  But to be more than that, to be great, requires something else.

That something else is ambition.  Ambition is that fire in your heart, the tiger yearning to be unleashed.  It is primal, yet methodical, passionate, yet thoughtful.  You have to know you want to be the star of the Joffrey Ballet and put your all into it.  Everyday when you show up to class you have to be alert, always working to improve yourself.  For you ballet should not be something to relax the mind, it should be instead a gauntlet for your mental faculties.

None of this will likely come as a surprise to you, dear reader.  I’m sure you could suggest quite a few books on the subject written by people much more successful in their respective fields than I in mine.  What I aim to do here is not to write out a step by step plan on how to achieve success or how to establish a personal training regiment.  Instead I merely aim to clear up a misconception.

I would bet that most people, if you pressed them hard enough, will tell you that they have an ambition, a dream.  This is especially the case for those just starting out in their fields.  They will tell you that one day they want to be on stage with Cirque du Soliel, to write for The New Yorker, or to run a mile in under four minutes.  For me though, these are not ambitions, they are aspirations.  You can copy the moves of the best jugglers or go through the motions of the best dance instructors, but to succeed you will need something else.  You will need drive and you will need insight.

Drive is the straightforward one.  You will need to practice on your own outside of class.  You will need to adopt Churchill’s philosophy and only “be satisfied with the very best.”  As a result you will constantly be needing to seek out new ideas, never stagnating.

What is less straightforward is insight.  To be an artist, whether with a brush or with a sword, you must do more than imitate.  Although you can still allude and reference, you must begin to make something uniquely yours.  This doesn’t mean that you should forget those who came before you.  Instead it means that your must internalize their ideas and play with them until something new emerges.  This is what it means to be an artist.

Having high aspirations and setting goals are good for you.  But to be truly great, you must be ambitious.

Everyday Adventure

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Today I went on an adventure.  Out of all the adventures I have been on, especially this past year, this one would hardly be considered one of the more exciting ones by most.

My adventure started as a search for a lost treasure.  And by lost treasure I mean olive oil.  This was not even for the last vial of oil in the temple to keep the menorah burning that would miraculously last for eight days instead of the one it was expected to.  No, this was to find some olive oil to cook up some quesadillas (I made these ones http://tinyurl.com/goatcheesequesadilla which are truly wonderful).  We were out of olive oil upstairs so I had to go downstairs to the pantry to look for some more.  Unfortunately I was unable to find any.  So instead I used canola.

While I was down there though, I found a hidden treasure.  Deep in the dusty shelves, hidden behind the vinegar, was a small black box with a brass colored top.  On the front the label read “Twinings Russian Caravan Tea”.  Lower down it read, “A fragrant blend of Keemun teas much prized by the old Russian Aristocracy”.  I had mentioned Russian tea and its history to one of my relatives just the day before and decided to give it a try.  I could not remember trying it before, but I knew that one of my good friends was a fan and I figured I should indulge.

I pried open the container with the handle of my teaspoon and then measured out just the right amount of black leaves with a smell that seemed oddly reminiscent of kombucha.  I poured the loose leaves into a strainer which I gently placed inside of and off white mug from my local library which read “Winter Reading 2007”.  I sat there with the taste of goat cheese fresh in my mouth, waiting for the water to absorb the flavors that lay in wait for my tongue, ever so tempting with their new aromas.  As the water got darker I was tempted not to delay gratification, but I was able to hold myself steady knowing the full flavor was yet to come and that I would not only have drank the tea before its prime, but that my tongue would be left with a scorching reminder of the importance of patience.

I removed the tea, still in its strainer, and placed it in a small cup made to fit the strainer perfectly so as not to stain anything on the table in front of me.  As soon as the liquid touched my lips I knew it to be too hot and waited until it had cooled down before I took my first sip.  Then I took another, and another, and another.  Soon there was hardly anything left.  I was in love.Now that I look back I continue to revel in the marvel contained within that small black box.  A plant grown China, originally transported across Russia, blended in England, and now drank in America.  Every mile so very worth the trek, every moment so very worth the wait.