Last summer, I did this sketch to facilitate a conversation I was having with my brother in law. We were in the car, driving from Vienna to our home in a neighbouring town. We were talking about how to balance ambition and gratitude.
In this post, I try to share with you some of this conversation, and some of the dialogue that ensued afterwards around its ideas. It may be a little abstract, but since it did spark off some intense reactions, I am sharing anyway. I hope it might spark something in you, too : ).
Sitting in the drivers' seat, as my brother navigated the traffic in the three-lane road, I drew the graph in the air, as I tried to make a point. "Do you look 'up' or 'down'?", I wondered out loud. When I put pen to paper to really draw the graph, the process of drawing and naming raised a lot of questions. Is this how most people would want their lives to unfold: following an ever climbing line? To some elusive end-point? In that case, I could call it our "silent collective focus". Or maybe, it is just my own silent expectation?
The point I tried to make was: do you "look up"? To where you want to be? Then, I would call you "ambitious". Or do you look down, counting your blessings? In that case, I would call you "mindful", or "grateful".
I suppose this is as good a point as any, to confess about being an "up-looker" myself. Up, up and away! This can be wonderful when I feel inspired and grounded in reality. However, sometimes my ideas take me so far from reality, that I get lost in "the gap". At such times I fall in completely, helplessly, lethargically.
Back to the car conversation. What was interesting, is that we agreed both gratitude and ambition were important, but we could not quite figure out how to satisfyingly combine both. Active gratitude is what makes you happy; ambition is what supposedly makes you realize your potential, which is also considered necessary for happiness. Then again, it lets you focus on what is missing, which may make you unhappy.
If you only look up, you may always feel falling short. If you only talk about your ambitions, others may feel you are not happy with what you have, or with who you are. They may feel they fail you. Or, they may feel you inspire them - but will only take your "inspiration", or company, in small doses.
On the other hand. If you are "only" grateful, looking at what is already there, you "have no ambitions", and will "never amount to anything". Or are you making others happy, helping them rejoice in what is, and what they have contributed to the current situation?
Later this year, I discussed the graph with a couple in our family we know well. It sparked a lively discussion between them. She considered herself the visionary; he considered himself the realistic optimist. She was happy and proud to have visions and ideas; he would feel pressured by them, receiving them as "orders", things she needed changed in order to be happy. Apparently, making her happy was his duty - and his duty alone. Also, he did not always think so highly of her visions; some were more fears than anything else, he ventured.
This sounded horribly familiar to some of my personal interactions...
I discussed the graph later that day, with a student with an active social life. He recognized himself as someone with high standards. As a member (or president) of various organizing committees, he cooperated wit fellow members often. When he asked them to take care of certain tasks, he would in most cases be disappointed by the results and end up doing things himself. The graph made him realize this, and think again about his expectations.
Having thought and talked about the first graph a little, I'd like to propose another sketch. Suggest another view.
Maybe we could colour the spotlight of our attention positively for both areas of focus? Like, say, gratitude for the positive aspects of reality; friendly curiosity and wonder for our hopes and visions. Enjoying the ideas that float like clouds through our minds. Just, wondering. Also, enjoy sharing them. Without denying how much we enjoy our current reality. Without having to make these ideas, hopes, ambitions come true straight away. Without the pressure of "having to make it so". Just: sharing. Maybe we'll find we share more visions than we thought.
This is my wish. Because, honestly, I am a dreamer. How about you?