I am an ambition addict.
My family and I live in a safe neighborhood in a prosperous area of a vibrant American metropolis. As a freelance writer, rabbi, meditation teacher, and yoga instructor, I’m my own boss and I make my own schedule. I have enough money to buy a cup of coffee at my favorite café every morning and to go out to dinner every few weeks with my wife. Our children go to a good school. I get to wear jeans and a T-shirt most days. That might not be your thing, but it’s definitely mine. I feel needed. I feel loved. I’m surrounded by blessings.
But there’s a part of me that imagines all this as prelude.
Enter the darkened theater of my mind, and you will see, projected on the screen behind my eyes, a self-written, self-directed film titled: Any Day Now.
Any Day Now begins with a close-up of a suave Semite with soft, brown eyes and a well-groomed, dark beard. The camera pans out and we see him standing behind a lectern in a crowded corner of a bookstore. A swelling crowd surrounds him on three sides. He reads from a book cradled in his hands, and though you can’t make out the title, you can see the words “International Bestseller” printed across the book jacket. He finishes reading to thunderous applause. Wide eyes and bright smiles. Bodies edging ever closer. Everyone high on his wild, wonderful words.
Oh wait—the latest in CGI effects have seamlessly shifted the setting. Now that same man’s enthusiastically bounding around a giant studio space wearing only linen yoga pants. He’s svelte and sexy. The bulge of a huge, thick, power penis gently thuds against the inner wall of his briefs. He calls out eloquent instructions to the sea of bodies surrounding him. They bend and bow, smile and sweat, collapse, cry, and rise up in joy. Background music—sitar and tabla—swells to crescendo. One can smell the incense in the air.
Following the class, a gaggle of coeds run up to our gifted guru. They’re big fans. Would he pose for a picture and sign some autographs? He smiles generously. Duty calls. After these star-struck sirens wave good-bye, each posting their serendipity to social media, our leading climbs into his hybrid station wagon. A classic rock ballad begins to play. Then the camera pans out, the car rolls toward the horizon, and the movie fades to black.
Any Day Now plays through my mind each and every day. Sometimes each and every hour. I’ve grown exhausted with it. You’ve witnessed this masterpiece once. Imagine watching it for all eternity. Even as I write these words, a sly, subtle voice whispers sweet nothings in my head. “Ben,” the voice calls, “Maybe this article will make you famous. Ben, maybe one day you’ll be reciting these words before an enraptured crowd, every one of them clutching your books to their chests, hanging on your every word. It could happen, Ben. Just keep writing . . . just keep writing . . . any day now . . .”
I am an ambition addict. A destructive strain of ambition courses through my veins.
And I am not alone.
Most ambition addicts don’t know they have a problem. We act believing that gold stars justify bad behavior. We let ourselves off the hook, forgiving flaws and foibles as inevitable by-products of unparalleled greatness. Few think: “Hmmm . . . I stayed late at the office and missed family dinners for three months straight and it earned me that big promotion . . . maybe I should dial it back.”
But ambition addiction is a problem. As ambition addicts grow dependent on this cycle of domination and validation, as we internalize the idea that our worth as human beings depends on the scope of our dreams and the efficacy of our efforts, we will do anything to win. Some of us will abandon our families. Others lie, cheat, and steal. The especially narcissistic, if given the launch codes, would happily crack the world in two, if only to feast on the Earth’s sweet, candy center. A few famous addicts have already tried. Some addicts are trying at this very moment.
Yet, as long as society values unfettered, star-quality achievement over holistic well-being, no intervention is coming. We ambition addicts will need to diagnose our own illness and administer our own cure. We will need to find the honesty, humility, hope, and courage to embark on the road to recovery.
The road to recovery begins by—step one—slowing down. Rather than unconditionally pounce to productivity, I force myself, throughout the day, to take pauses and breathe deep. I still check plenty of items off my interminable to-do list. I still reach for glory and pound away for that Pulitzer. On the road to recovery, however, I surf the swell of attempted achievement without manic desperation.
Downshifting from hyperdrive to easy does it leads naturally to step two on the road to recovery: enjoyment. As I go slow, I have the opportunity to pause, look up from my work, and notice the cup of tea cooling by my laptop. I can lift the cup and slowly, mindfully, take a sip. I can relish the tea’s warmth washing over my dry, pursed lips and savor its earthy bitterness colliding with my tongue. I used to operate under the assumption that the future could, and should, be more enjoyable than the present. Any day now, I would free myself from this DMV waiting room of a life and, number called, ticket punched, exit into sunshine and open air. Mindfully imbibed cups of tea, slowly savored ice cream cones, and even the occasional, irresponsible afternoon matinee have taught me to appreciate the wealth of messy, miraculous, profoundly un-cinematic yet refreshingly delightful moments that each day delivers.
Slowing down and smelling the flowers has also reminded me to—step three—give thanks. Even when I awake, as an ambition addict, with that all-too-familiar feeling of panic and desperation, even as rage boils in my belly and Any Day Now shimmers behind my eyes, I put all that aside and remind myself that this life—this life barreling down on me right now, with its smiles, tears, triumphs, defeats, exuberant bear hugs, gut-wrenching loneliness, unbounded horizons, and unreconciled regret—this life is a gift. On days that feel hopeless and thankless, I don’t give in to despair. I offer a small prayer of thanks. I count my blessings—for family and friends. For cups of tea and ice cream cones. I plant seeds of gratitude and watch them slowly, surely bloom.
On the road to recovery, we should anticipate confusion, exasperation, disappointment, and doubt. Recovery will call upon all reserves of strength, courage, patience, and perseverance. Reaching for the stars may be hard. The road to recovery is harder.
As the days turn to weeks, the weeks to months, and the months to years, however, we will look back to discover: We’ve changed. We’ve grown. My life feels a lot different today than it did before I began this recovery process. My approach to career, family, success, and failure has changed. My wife has noticed these positive developments. My children, too. My family and friends tell me I seem happier now, more at home in my skin and more at peace in my world.
I may be an ambition addict. But I’m on the road to recovery. And slowly but surely, it’s leading me home.
Photo: Getty Images