I meet a lot of very ambitious young people. They talk about becoming pro-athletes, mega-star recording artists, and rich business owners. (Unfortunately, many of them are in jail.) I’m happy to hear their big dreams, but when I ask these future pro football stars if they’re on the high school team, they scoff. When I ask the future recording artists if they practice their instruments every day, they laugh. That’s just baby stuff. They’re waiting for the real deal. Meanwhile, they’re biding time using drugs and getting into trouble. Big ambitions with little resolve. My own children have similar big dreams (one astronaut, one president, and one fairy princess pony). So I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on big ambitions. Sometimes ambition feels too much like desire to me: I won’t be happy until I get this or that thing. Of course I want my kids and students to have big goals in life. But empty ambitions get you nowhere. What really works in life is resolve. I want my kids and students to know that their true life’s work will come from a place of certainty, not a place of wanting. How do we grow young people who have resolve and determination, not just big wishes? At Tall Trees Grow Deep we created the Resolve Over Ambition Activity to help kids turn their big, vague ambitions into realistic resolutions they can start working on today. Check it out.
Ambitions are like bubbles that are easily popped. I want to be a rock star. Oh yeah, I can’t sing. I guess I’ll be an actor or basketball star. I tell kids not to waste too much time on big ambitions. Instead, nurture resolve. Resolve is like a train on a track that cannot be stopped. Resolve says, this is how my life is going to go no matter what, because I am going to work hard and keep at it until it happens. Resolve pushes through storms and knocks down walls. Ambition bursts at the first sign of a cloud. With resolve you can say you want to make music your life, starting right now. Take classes, join choirs, pursue a music degree, move to Los Angeles, do whatever it takes. Set a resolve that, no matter what, you are going to build your life around music. Open yourself up to all the possibilities. Start now. Enjoy every moment. Never Quit. Who knows what great things can happen.
I often have my kids and students read about famous people who pursued their life’s goal with resolve. Often fame, glory, and wealth had nothing to do with it. One of our most celebrated poets, Emily Dickinson, never published in her life. Abraham Lincoln failed in several businesses and lost most of his elections (and then got shot for winning one). Van Gogh and Kafka died poor and unknown. They just did what they had a passion for, with resolve. Hopefully they enjoyed themselves while they were doing it.
The formula I tell my students is this: Resolve + Passion + Hard Work = Success. It might not be the exact success you pictured, but you will be successful because you’ll be working in a field you love; and by combining resolve with your passion, you’ll enjoy the road there. Try our Resolve Over Ambition Activity with your kids and students. Help them set a resolve that they can work towards. It’s okay if it changes. It’s okay if they fail. What’s important is that they are working toward something real.
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