Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Reality Crushes Ambition

A corporate sales manager made a point to speak with me on one of his visits to our branch. I knew my supervisor had thought of moving me into sales, and this was no doubt a casual, but purposeful investigation into my suitability. He asked me what the company’s best features were, what gave us a competitive edge. I frankly stated that I saw little difference between us and our competitor. He did not believe that I could be in earnest, since I had worked there loyally for over 4 years. He gave me a few examples, but I had little interest in his examples. He could not understand how I could not be impressed by the cited accomplishments and statistics. Desperate for common ground in what was fast becoming an uncomfortable conversation, I searched for agreement. But I could not honestly admit his arguments any substance, disappointed as I was at that point with my employment.

He attempted to approach from another strange angle. He asked me, "what is your most pervasive characteristic, the quality that drives your thoughts and actions most directly?" I looked deep inside myself for a philosophical reply and came up with: "Justice. I want everything to make sense and be right and just. Not equal, but just. I am preoccupied with justice." He had intended to turn my answer into a motive to sell product and services, but justice gave him no mark at which to aim. He was baffled. Baffled that I had stumped him; baffled that someone could be so wholly unlike his ambitious self; baffled that he who prides himself on his powers of persuasion could not convince me. He hinted at how much money there was to be made in sales, but I am satisfied with what my tiny salary provides. He was further baffled. I felt the need to explain my perspective, so I related the tale (told earlier in this blog) about my father who had every skill to build dream homes and would never have one of his own. He pitied my dad because, from his perspective, Dad had given up on his dreams instead of making them reality. The sales coach did not see that a corrupt world that fails to reward people was to blame. Or, more likely, he did see—for the first time—that it isn’t reasonable to shoot for the moon when you’re bound to fall short. Only those with rockets can reach the moon, and only then for a fleeting moment.

He had come to rally my spirits, and instead, allowed me to dash his. I truly believe that a piece of him died that day, right before my eyes. I pity him, for being so defeated by a dose of reality. I think that is the danger in ambition: failure is hardest for the ambitious because they can never be satisfied with less than their fantasy.

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