Ambition: Is Taking the Promotion Selfish or Faithful?
Anticipation filled the spring air around us as my wife and I walked along a country road near our New England home. A big decision about our next five years lay before us. To say our entire future hung in the balance feels over the top, but we knew our choice would probably play a key role in directing the rest of our lives.
If my wife accepted an offer to switch to a highly ranked graduate program at a midwestern university, she would certainly have more opportunities. From a career standpoint for her, the move was a no-brainer.
As for me, I’d struggled to find enough work in our rural location. I was far away from many of the events, businesses, and experts in my field. The location of my wife’s prospective graduate school program would land me within striking distance of all three. A change for my wife would be good for me, too. My career could only improve with this move.
Ambition or Selfishness?
We already knew all of these things when we set out on our walk that day, though. As we talked them through again, I sensed we were no longer evaluating which options were best for our careers. A larger, unspoken issue hung over our conversation.
When and how should our career ambitions determine our family’s future?
My wife and I both have family dotted along the East Coast. We are rooted in the rolling mountains, bitter cold ocean, gentle lakes, and iconic stone walls of New England. Our personalities fit well with folks who value the subtleties of biting sarcasm and giving people their space. To make the decision even harder, my wife’s brother and his family were planning to move within an hour of us. Was leaving our families behind going to be worth the career advancement?
And then there was the question of selfishness. Before my wife first enrolled in graduate school a couple of years earlier, we both had good, responsible jobs that brought in reliable income. We gave them up, though, so we could move closer to her new program. I took the opportunity to begin a full-time freelance career. A Christian marriage specialist had told us our decision to leave those jobs behind to pursue different careers had been selfish. He said we chose our new careers over loving and serving each other. Memories of his condemnation weighed on us as we considered another change.
We knew there was still more to it, though. The earlier career shift came during a season when we both felt burned out, like so many of our personal gifts and talents remained untapped. Since that change, I’d seen my wife grow in her new career, growing deeper into the kind of person she’s created to be. Her work had become an expression of the gifts God has given her. By the same token, each time I held up my work with open hands to God and asked for direction, I felt nudged to keep at it. As I grew and learned, I kept finding new ways God wanted to reach others through my work.
Ambition, Sacrifice, and Faith
Is ambition wrong? Sometimes, yes. Sometimes, no. The trap of ambition we are warned about in Scripture relates to striving that puts us in conflict with others. For my wife and me, though, ambition seemed like a leap of faith. We could easily enough choose to remain in the comfort of New England. But what some call “putting family first” might be failing to trust God in our case. It was difficult to know for sure.
In the end, we decided to leave our East Coast family behind for the sake of our new jobs in the Midwest. We also came to understand our decision that spring day was about more than our jobs. An outsider may look back and see two selfish, ambitious young people strolling along that New England road. But we felt our choice was a yes to something we believed about God and his work in our lives.
If there’s one thing that ambition and living by faith share in common, it’s sacrifice.
When we have enough time to take walks these days, we feel the ache of missing New England. There are no mountains or oceans here. There are no views of sprawling New England towns or quaint stone walls along the hiking trails. There are few lakes, and even a nice hill is hard to find.
When life gets crazy, we lean hard on our friends because family is so far away. We don’t like being at the mercy of Skype or epic road trips to keep our kids in touch with their grandparents. Ironically, our ambitious decision not only has grown our faith and changed the course of our careers, it’s also led us to serve others in ways that would have never been possible if we’d stayed put.
We could have let our fear or lack of faith win, hiding behind the virtue of “not being ambitious.” But instead, we’ve seen how God pushed us to dream bigger, to take risks, and to sacrifice our comfort.
Is ambition positive, neutral, destructive, or fallen but redeemable? Does ambition interfere with Christian witness? What is the difference between being called and being driven? And why does it matter? Does it matter? Western culture values a strong work ethic, and we encourage our children and their children to strive and work toward success. Have we put our focus in the right place? Join us for this High Calling series that we’ve titled simply, Ambition.