With the closing out of the year, one common activity is setting goals and resolutions for the new year. For me, this would involve evaluating goals made during the year, celebrating progress, or lamenting at the lack thereof, and deciding what goals will be next.
While working on my goals, I found myself struggling on the larger ambition goals, whilst attempting to avoiding harboring thoughts of greed. So, naturally I did what anyone would do in order to avoid working on any long-term goals: I pivoted and started exploring the balance between greed and ambition.
Ambition is typically seen in a positive light, and is recognized as the self-motivating desire to achieve a specific goal. In contrast, greed has a negative association with excesses. Can ambitious goals co-exist with contentment without creeping into greed? Where is the line in the sand?
While examining the Scripture on ambition and the purpose of work, I came across a few examples on the value of performing to the best of one’s abilities.
Proverbs 14:23 – In all labour there is profit: but the talk of the lips tendeth only to penury
Proverbs 21:25 – The desire of the slothful killeth him; for his hands refuse to labour
Colossians 3:23 – And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men
Ecclesiastes 9:10 – Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest
Reflecting on the parable of the talents, I find myself wondering if the third steward’s predicament was caused by his fear of loss or a lack of ambition? My read into this is: everything we have, including our material resources, time and skills, have been entrusted to us by God. Hence, we as stewards are responsible for these resources and how we use them productively.
Having established that the lack of ambition is not necessarily a good solution, I propose that contentment is the counterbalance to unbridled ambition, pride, greed, and its excesses. This calls for one to recognize the progress made thus far, while keeping an eye on the horizon.
When calibrating goals with ambition and contentment, I found it helpful to remind myself of the following:
Align goals with values. Understand your core values and non-negotiables. Goals that are harmonized with all aspects of oneself are more likely to bring lasting satisfaction. As seasons of our lives change, so do our priorities, so revisiting goals may help us to recalibrate and reprioritize our goals. When in doubt, remember what Jesus said: “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33)
Recognize external influences and avoid selfish ambitions. Peer and societal pressures can lead one to seek out goals that help us to fit in, or to be accepted. Surely chasing someone else’s definition of progress cannot bring happiness and satisfaction, but instead, resentment and envy. “Let nothing be done through strife or vain glory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves” (Philippians 2:3)
Out of reach, but within sight. In addition to SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time Bound) goals, we can calibrate the level of difficulty of our goals to ensure that they are just slightly outside of one’s comfort zone. This will serve as motivation to get better though small increments, giving us the confidence to put one foot in front of the other. Goals that are too difficult to reach typically result in lack of action, or else resentment at the successes of others. Conversely, goals that are too easy could lead to complacency.
After goals and plans are drawn up, the next step requires one to evaluate, not through worldly lenses, but though God’s will. We need to recognize that God holds sovereignty over all. When we encounter detours and obstacles, we need to know God’s way, and persist in the right way. “Commit thy works unto the Lord, and thy thoughts shall be established” (Proverbs 16:3). “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
Focus on the Journey
Comparison is the thief of joy. In 2022, I started running as a form of exercise and a means of mental relaxation. While this hobby is a positive one, I found myself consistently unsatisfied and wanting to get better. Reflecting on this, I have learnt to take a longer view objective to this hobby, to literally to run my own race and enjoy the process.
Life’s adventure can take us to many places, sometimes on top of a hill, and other times we find ourselves in the valley. We make plans, analyze options, and attempt to steer to the best of our abilities. However, we know that God is ultimately in charge, and we would receive course corrections when we stray off path. One stands to benefit by being open to correction and rebuke. “There are many devices in a man's heart; nevertheless, the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand” (Proverbs 19:21)
The combination of Asian deference and Singapore champion grumbler leads to some peculiar behaviors that I am equally guilty of. Often, we dwell on what didn’t go well, play down the achievements of ourselves and our teams, but get fiercely defensive when compared against others. Perhaps we ought to find time to smell the roses more often. “Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
Celebrations serve as important mile markers. It gives one the opportunity to look back at the progress, and be thankful for the blessings that we have received. It also gives the opportunity to consider the path ahead. Is more of the same the best choice, or is it time to be contented with progress, and refocus on other priorities? “But godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6)
As we count the weeks till the end of 2023, what are some of the things that we can be thankful for? What are some of the aspirational dreams we have for the coming year? What can we do to be more fruitful servants of the Lord? Signing off and wishing everyone the best for the year ahead!