The best motivation for ambition is realization, not recognition

Some aspiring spiritualists fear, “Will becoming spiritual mean that I have to give up my ambitions?”

No, to grow spiritually, we don’t need to give up ambition; we just need to change our motivation for ambition.

Normally, our various ambitions are motivated by the craving for recognition: “I want the world to recognize my specialness and greatness.” This motivation sets us up for frustration because sometimes, due to adverse circumstances, we just can’t actualize our ambitions; or sometimes even after fulfilling our ambitions, we don’t get the craved recognition; or sometimes even after getting that recognition, we get only fleeting satisfaction.

Gita wisdom gives us a motivation for ambition that is less dependent on externals – the motivation of realization. It explains that at our core, we are souls, who are parts of the whole, Krishna. We can find enduring satisfaction only when we connect lovingly with him and redefine all our activities as services to him. Such redefinition requires purification, which comes when we engage regularly in direct devotional activities. Being thus purified, we get the conviction that our connection with Krishna is the source of our greatest satisfaction. Therefore, we strive to connect with him with all our resources – which include our vocations, talents and ambitions. Indeed, the Bhagavad-gita (18.46) exhorts us to worship Krishna through our work. With this devotional understanding, we become ambitious to use our talents for realization: for realizing our spiritual connection with Krishna and for realizing the gifts he has given us by using them to contribute tangibly in his service.

When we work for realization, even if the external results don’t work out, the internal result always works out: our intention and endeavor to serve Krishna keep us connected with him. And that connection helps us grow spiritually and relish ever-increasing devotional satisfaction thereof.

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Think it over:

  1. Can you think of times when the craving for recognition led you to frustration, not satisfaction?
  2. What are your God-given talents? What are your related ambitions? How can you use them to serve Krishna?
  3. When did your connection with Krishna provide you strength even amidst external disappointments?
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