Boys Without Ambitions

When achieving the next level is easy, boys aren’t motivated to succeed in real life.

I think we still believe that ambition is for boys. —Jeanette Winterson

Boys are amazing things.  They’re energetic, excited, explorative,curious, and just plain mad. The parents continue to make them.  I’m fairly glad that they still do, because I am a boy myself.  Been raised a boy for over 19 years.  I’m rather proud of it.   The games, the imagining and the books.  Oh, the books.  I loved reading stories of heroes and villains, of good versus evil.    But a change has happened in the last 40-70 years.

Boys have had a new style of living handed to them; one of having all their needs taken care of, and of being able to enter fantasy worlds with little to no hassle. They have little conflict, little problem, little to drive them. Now, I do understand that so many kids are hassled, one way or another, and have to fight it out. I completely respect that. I’m suggesting that many of these boys may not have the drive to push them “to the next level.” They aren’t developing ambition.

Sociologists have been describing this problem as a “Peter Pan Syndrome.” Boys are raised through high school, but then find themselves in situations where they have to grow up, take on responsibility, and become men. But this is hard. Why?

The Book of Man author William J. Bennett sees the issue in how people aren’t focused on the correct things. The culture has had a universal decline in its ambitions.  Media presents men’s outward goals as things of honor and prestige, like saving the world, finding joy, and having great sex. These are all attributes that focus on the “now” instead of the “then.” It’s a focus on “What can I do now?  How can I do it now?  Does it feel good now?”

Bennett believes that men should be focused on something else altogether; they should be aiming at the “Virtues of Marriage, Employment, and Religion,” virtues that are focused on one’s adulthood, and a steady growth of happiness instead of a “make-me-happy-now”  mindset. These virtues also help one to focus on what matters: personal growth and the growth of the family.

I find that Bennett’s observations are tight and on the mark. Men do need larger universal attributes to drive them. Without these, one can easily be distracted and live a sub-par life.

But how do we encourage such behavior?  It sounds difficult to implement. However, the one thing men can do to get boys to focus on these “future ambitions” is to take boys out of their “entertainment bubble” in order to get them thinking and working towards the bigger picture.

I know this was integral to my own character development, for before I was 14, I was a huge gamer. It was all I focused on. In order to remove me from my “childhood addiction,” my parents had to remove the gaming system from the house. I still had strong urges towards gaming, but over the years, these thoughts waned, and I grew into other desires. I educated myself in the arts of puppetry, filmmaking, and even literary analysis. In the 5 years since they removed gaming, I’ve experimented and mastered dozens of skills, from cooking to podcast production.  I’m more widely read.

I’m not the standard by which we judge all other things;  but I’m the example as to why opening up boy’s ambitions can have monumental effects for their everyday lives. Who knows, you could be helping him become the next great filmmaker, writer or thinker!


—Photo credit:  kitkatherine/Flickr

About Christopher Hutton

Chris is a college student from Rivendell Sanctuary. He writes about great ideas at his blog You can find him on Twitter at @liter8media.


  1. OirishM says:

    Geez, it seems like even here you can’t get away from the whole “real man =/= video games” guff.

    No-one should be recommending William Bennett on that one.

  2. Mark Neil says:

    Sorry Christopher, but this is coming off as just another “blame the boys” article, of which there are plenty. But as with all others, whether you have valid criticise or not (such as the lack of ambition in our youth, males in particular), you ignore the causes of these “failing”s in favour of dumping all the blame on boys. Answer me this, when all you see around you is images of men as failures, idiots or abusers, what do you strive to emulate? When everything boys like to do is deemed wrong or criminal and is punishable in some way, what’s left to entertain? Have boys lost their ambition because they just got lazy? or perhaps is it because they were, in effect, told to step aside and let women through, and have had roadblocks raised to ensure that. There is one phrase in this article that is very telling for me, and follows along with what I’m saying… you describe what you did after your gaming system was taken away…

    ” I educated myself”

    I guess schools aren’t for educating boys anymore? if you want to do it, you need to do it yourself.

    • William says:

      “Virtues of Marriage, Employment, and Religion,”

      So not being married or religious is a problem now ? as if that’s the only path to grow.

      • Mark Neil says:

        While I don’t agree with the author on pretty much everything he says, I think you are injecting something he didn’t say into the words he quoted from Bennett. What he said on this was:

        “I find that Bennett’s observations are tight and on the mark. Men do need larger universal attributes to drive them. Without these, one can easily be distracted and live a sub-par life.”

        At no point does he say not attaining these virtues is a problem, or that it is the only path. He actually says those who don’t choose to take up those virtues can easily be distracted, meaning those virtues make things easier (this I don’t agree with) but still remains an option, and not one that is “a problem”.

        • William says:

          ““I find that Bennett’s observations are tight and on the mark”
          In other words he agrees with Bennett.

          Video games aren’t the problem, it’s how much gaming you do inplace of other things.
          If someone grows up to simply have a job, a home and play video games, i don’t see what the big deal is.

          • Mark Neil says:

            Oh, I don’t disagree, but I think you’re injecting into the conversation what isn’t there. Your post I replied to spoke nothing about video games, instead, it made the connection that not being married or religious is a problem, and that the author said it was the only choice. Nether of which the author of this article asserted, nor quoted. I don’t have a problem with you disagreeing with the author, I’m just pointing out that what you are disagreeing to was never actually said.

  3. Well, this part is problematic in lots of ways:
    “Virtues of Marriage, Employment, and Religion,”
    Whereas I’m completely with Freud when he says that “love and work are the cornerstones of our humanness”, I find that these three proposed manifestation or institutions of love and work (and world view) neither make someone virtuous, nor they are only ways of showing interest for the world around us (especially for those who don’t have access to them [*hint*gays*hint*]). There are lots of ways that one can get to a personal growth.

    And even though you’ve started okay with the problem of “easiness of achieving the next level”, I think that jumping from one comfort zone to another doesn’t get to the core of the problem, that is – getting away from your comfort zone (or the place where it’s easy to jump from one level to another) long enough so you can study yourself, the world your you perceive, and your reactions to it. Sure, one can get some help from other great thinkers, religions, or people, but swapping one mind-set for another, that was prescribed from whom ever, as much as it makes a step forward, doesn’t actually get you far and it manifests the exact same problem of the aforementioned gamers – that people are unwilling to think that much about anything. And everyone should learn about their inner core and universal values that make them what they are and what they would want to fight for.

    The only thing that is universal, and which you wanted, but hadn’t said more clearly, is, that, the more you are into something (mentally, physically, spiritually) the harder and longer it takes to get a reward for it, but it makes it all the more worthwhile.

    • I agree with a lot of your points, JP. Interesting stuff. However, I agree with you that Marriage, work, religion) are not virtues by themselves, especially if we use historical definitions like Aristotle’s. Virtue was simply the terminology Mr. Bennett used. However, I do see them as goals at large that boys can aim at in order to grow and expand. There are other tools that can perform similarily (such as friendship, etc), but I don’t think they have the exact same effects as these three historical attributes

      Also, I wouldn’t diminish the value of learning from others in order to grow. You seem to present it as simply changing perceptions instead of analyzing them. I see the value of reading others and adopting them, for they provide a solid basis for analysis and reading. And this solid basis gives us the chance to build our understanding of the world from others.

      But I still love your input. Thanks!

      • Well, I wasn’t trying to diminish learning from others, it’s just that I’ve had this feeling that, above all, religion and marriage already have this set of rules, or mind-set, whereas I was merely proposing that a person should firstly experiment and find out what is important to him (of course through getting to know and adopting the values of other people! we are after all social beings, and don’t have to always “discover hot water”), and how he ticks and then he can find his inner goals, his inner institutions, that can be similar to a certain extent to these rules, but still be different and personally adjusted to each individual.

        For instance, let’s take an example of a really good friend of mine who enjoys, looks and finds her love in basically open relationships. And to take away all the prejudice for starters – she isn’t a swinger, she doesn’t enjoy orgies and she isn’t a sex addict or something like that. She basically isn’t monogamous. Sex-wise. And it’s not because she is unable to love, or doesn’t find satisfaction only in one woman, or even that she hasn’t loved anyone that much. Quite the contrary, she really loves someone deeply and profoundly, but she simply isn’t monogamous. And she knows that. She never ran away from it, or lied to her self, or stayed in her comfort zone by not facing who she is, or lying to the entire world about that. She is quite straight-forward to each and every partner as to exactly what she wants, and how she ticks. And her view on love and romantic relationships comforts to marriage neither legally nor customary. It just isn’t her goal. She has her own and it doesn’t make her any less “valuable” or virtuous than any woman her age, who wants and pursues marriage with a man and children and family.

        And again, I really, really, really don’t say that marriage is bad or something like that, it’s just that it’s one of the goals that one can pursue in love. That’s why I would much rather rephrase these three things to love, work and world views (because marriage and religions don’t encompass everything [for instance atheism, agnosticism, ignosticism or people who are against religions in general]).

  4. William Werner says:


    You are preaching to the choir on an issue that is so extremely important for boys of our age (19-20) need to hear about. I have recently dropped gaming about 3 months ago and I have moved toward bigger and better things, cooking, longboarding, running, etc. All activities I would have ran away from before. I wish there is an easy solution for people to move on, but there is none. Some thoughts on how to start gaining some ambition?

    Keep up the good sir, I look forward to seeing future work from you.


    • Hey William,

      I like seeing fellow guys move towards things beyond the easy activities of gaming and personal entertainment. The #1 thing I always say guys need to do in order to move forward is quite simply to aim at something higher than our own pleasure. For example, your mastery of cooking is not only fun for you ( I hope), but can also be useful skills that improve your potential for a job, or for serving those around you.

      Some higher examples of ambition could be the strengthening of relationships with those around us, the desire to see personal change within the school, or even aiming at cultural change around us.

      But whatever you do, aim at things that not only serve the communities around you, but also grow you as a human being!

      I hope some of these suggestions help!

  5. “Boys are raised through high school, but then find themselves in situations where they have to grow up, take on responsibility, and become men. But this is hard. Why?’

    Oh, brother. It’s not that it’s hard, it’s that it isn’t worth it.

    I grew up playing videogames so let me put this in terms that you’ll understand:

    Imagine if when you worked hard and made it to the next level, instead of receiving recognition you were ridiculed. Imagine if by displaying your skill you would only be criticized for being “privileged” or “lucky” or “playing cheap.” Imagine if by reaching the level of “marriage” you lost all continues and saves and it was game over if you failed.

    Imagine if you saw female gamers start with extra resources and extra continues. Imagine if you saw them get farther in the game faster than you and then turn around claim that they are better and smarter than you.

    Maybe you might just decide to walk away and stop playing the game. That’s what we’re doing.

    • I can imagine that, and I’m truly sorry if you feel that way. It’s hard to keep going if you see no benefits coming from it.

      I guess I have a personality that just wants to keep going, despite setbacks or ideas. That’s not always natural for us. But I still think that men need to keep moving forward, and reach that higher goal, that thing that is beyond us.

      • Hey that’s cool, dude. If that’s your personality then by all means continue to strive to achieve regardless of how you’re treated.

        “But I still think that men need to keep moving forward, and reach that higher goal, that thing that is beyond us.”

        A lot of us don’t feel that way. We feel cheated and taken advantage of by a society that devalues us and we see reaching that higher goal as benefiting that society. So we seek other achievements, like self-exploration and pursuit of our hobbies, instead of accumulating wealth and position. Because we don’t want to live to provide for women anymore, we want to live for ourselves.

      • Anthony Zarat says:

        “Virtues of Marriage, Employment, and Religion.”

        Marriage – For you, it is the greatest investment you will ever make. For your wife, it is a convenience that she can cash out of at any time, for any reason, or for no reason. When she does cash out, she will have automatic control of your property and (more importantly) of your children. You will be a human ATM machine, condemned to begg for the privilege of heartbreaking “play dates” with your own children.

        Employment – You can do this if you want … why would you want it? A single man has few needs or wants. If you become a wealthy man, your earnings will be heavily taxed to pay for entitlements that disproportionately benefit women — and in many cases completely exclude men and boys. Your money will be used to finance oppression and prejudice.

        Religion – The biggest shame game there is. This scam has nothing to offer you except obligations without benefits and responsibilities without rights. Walk away and never look back.

        Read about MGTOW, and save yourself. While there is still time.

Speak Your Mind