Vague Ambition

Whenever I write anything I always start off with a title. I may have turned it into an obsessive compulsive thing now, but at first it was simply about giving myself direction.

When I was younger I used to think up titles to books I wanted to write all the time. I think I wrote them down somewhere -they’d probably make for laughable reading. I guess I’ve always known what I wanted, just not how to get there. I knew the titles, but I never wrote the books. Even now, as I type, there are five titled-but-unwritten blog posts sitting on iWeb. Clearly nothing’s changed.

I think my life feels very much like those traffic lights above. Greens, Reds and Ambers in a whole bunch of different directions and no clue where to go. The last 4-5 years have been filled with short terms goals and some hazy idea about the future. To those who knew me when I first came back from South Africa I suppose my goal and direction was anything but vague; come home, work for 6 months, move out to South Africa. Well, five years later that’s not quite the picture that got painted (I think they call it the Tearfund effect).

So what now?

One of my favourite phrases that I’ve picked up over the last few years is “you can’t hit what you’re not aiming for” – It always makes me picture some guy standing in a field, shooting an arrow into the air, totally unsure of where the target is, getting more and more angry that he keeps missing it, but not knowing how far off he actually is or how he can improve his shot. The odds are stacked against him.

I think my biggest fear has always been, and I expect will continue to be, that I won’t achieve enough with my life; that the impact of my living won’t be felt. I only have one shot at this life thing and I plan on using it wisely. But what if I get to the end of it and don’t feel like I put in/got out what I wanted to? You can’t exactly go back and do over. So I suppose it got me thinking, what is it that I’m I aiming for? I’m loathed to use such corny management speak, but “what does success look like” to me?

And then in my obsessive reading of all Don Miller books, I read this:

“It’s true that while ambition creates fear, it also creates the story. But it’s a good trade, because as soon as you point towards the horizon, life no longer feels meaningless. And suddenly there is risk in your story and a question about whether you’ll make it..I was watching the movie Star Wars recently and wondered what made that movie so good…I realised that if I paused the DVD on any frame, I could point toward any major character and say exactly what that person wanted. No character had a vague ambition. It made me wonder if the reasons our lives seem so muddled is because we keep walking into scenes in which we, along with the people around us, have no clear idea what we want.”

No one could accuse me of not having direction. It’s just that “Africa” really isn’t enough of a direction. I sit in a muddled circle, unsure of exactly how I want to “help people” (which is another one of my vague ambitions). “Help people in Africa” leaves the door pretty wide open. And I’m not sure that Africa is still my direction. So I’m back at “help people”. And that’s when I start getting scared – when five years have passed by and I’m still not sure what to do with my life. In fact, I have less idea now than I did then because I have more options now. I’m not begrudging my options – or the last five years for that matter – its just that I’m worried another five years will pass and I’ll have muddled around, becoming a jack of all trades and master of none, somehow missing the steps that I was supposed to have walked in.

Another favourite phrase of mine is “when man makes a plan, God laughs” and I know that to be only too true in my life. But that having been said, I find setting goals helps me keep moving! So here’s to a few less-vague ambitions that I’m currently putting out there..and we’ll see what happens with the next five years!

I want to…

  1. Learn to do my job well!
  2. Spend a few years living overseas
  3. Learn French and Spanish
  4. Study Theology
  5. Get a masters…in…something.
  6. Explore new countries and cultures and be intentional about learning and reflecting
  7. Keep pursuing meaningful work that makes a difference to peoples lives
  8. Concentrate on putting people first in my everyday life
  9. Invest more in the community where I live and help my church to do the same
  10. Write a book…some day. Ok, perhaps that’s pretty vague.

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