During performance appraisal, I asked this question to my best employee, Jane. Her answer was perfect. I wish, I’d known the answer to this ‘Question’ the way she did.
This is a question that transcends through your life, right from the tender age, when life is full of possibilities and nor your education or physical state limits the prospect of you pursuing your ambition.
Guesstimates indicate that, at an age of five, eight out of ten boys would answer the question as ‘to become a pilot’. Mine was no different. At five, the motivation for this was not the air hostess. It should’ve had something to do with the aura and the style the pilots carried, with their cool caps, uniforms, aviator watches, and, of course, the shades.
However, this ambition of mine was broken when, in high school, I was forced to choose Commerce as my major, instead of Science.
Nevertheless, if one ambition is broken, a young soul can always pick another.
In high school, forming a ‘Boy Band’ was my ambition. Obviously, Backstreet Boys, Boyzone, and of course the girls, were the major motivators. My friends and I even formed a high school boy band. We bought cool T-shirts, sweatshirts, shades, 2nd, and 3rd hand instruments, and even made a poster for ourselves.
However, we couldn’t make it, because, frankly none of us knew how to properly play the instruments, and worse, to sing.
By the time I reached college, I was no longer the master of my ambition. The truth is, like many of us, I was confused. My choices were vastly influenced by what my friends wanted to do, what my parents said, and what my uncles, aunties, relatives & even the neighbor suggested. The options were plenty — Lawyer, Auditor, Investment Banker, Hotel Management, and many more. And like how we get confused with the number of options of toothbrushes in a supermarket and finally make a random choice, I chose to be an Investment Banker and enrolled myself for the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) course.
Little did I know about the herculean difficulty of the course. Years went by, and I just managed to complete half of it. However, with this qualification, I managed to get a job in a multinational bank.
What I do in the bank, cannot be told in two lines, so I’ll save it for another day, but I assure you, it’s far from anything great.
So here I am, 30 years after the age I wanted to become a Pilot; stuck in a back-office job, with a fancy title. To my merit, in just 3 years, I’ve made it from a mere Executive to Senior Manager. But I come to the office day in and day out, do the business as usual — manage my team, my customers, and my bosses. I have no clue why I do this.
I hate my job and lately, I suck at it. I started making silly and unforgivable mistakes. My boss, John, surprisingly has been patient; however, I am not sure when it will drain out.
The main reason for me hating my job is that I still carry the regret. Every time, while flying at 30,000 feet, when I hear “Ladies and gentlemen this is your Captain speaking…” — a sense of regret fills my heart, drowning me with thoughts of missed opportunities consisting of ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’. It suffocates me.
I’m not doing what I love and worse, I don’t know what I love doing. I’ve no ambition and am just going with the flow.
‘What’s your ambition in life?’ — If someone asks me, as they still do. I struggle and just blabber.
However, Jane had an answer.
When asked the question, her reply was, “My ambition is to love what I’m currently doing, because I don’t know what I love to do. This way, I’ll be good at what I’m doing, and in the meantime, I can find what I love to do.’
It took a while for my half CFA-qualified brain to process this answer.
Seeing my confused face, Jane quickly asked me a question back “Ben, which subject did you score the highest in school?”
“English, I loved that subject. I scored the maximum it.” I said.
“And which is the subject you hated the most?”
“Science,” I said.
“So here’s a guess — among other subjects, I am sure you’ve scored the lowest in science. I am right?”
I smiled. A low score in science was the reason why I was forced to take commerce, instead of science, in high school.
“Yes, your guess is right.” I said.
“It’s an old lesson that my tuition teacher taught me, if you try loving the subject you are studying, no matter how much your brain hates it, eventually you will do well in it,” Jane said. “When I lost my husband, I only got this job with my work experience. I don’t exactly love this work, but I make a conscious effort to try and love what I am doing, in that way I can be good at it and can sustain my family.”
“No wonder you are the highest-rated employee in our team,” I said.
“Thanks, Ben, but loving what I’m doing also gives me hope that someday when I know what it is I want to do in life, I have the time and the means for it.”
It was a simple lesson. One which is obvious and everyone knows inside but chooses not to think about.
I thanked Jane. Knowingly or unknowingly she had helped me.
We all need to make ends meet, Jane being a single mom and me being a parent, have responsibilities. Living with regret of lost opportunities and confusion of ambition, eat up our present, which ultimately is, the building block of our future. Doing well, right here and now, is the answer. This will sustain us and, in the future, provide us with the luxury of pursuing what we love.
So I decided to love what I’m doing, even if I’m not doing what I love. That’s my ambition. The rest will just have to fall in place.