Can Ambition Be Godly?

‘Is ambition godly?’ a young Christian reporter asked me recently. I was so knocked out that she had to ask, that I decided to pen a few words on the subject. But the answer is: of course it is.

Let’s take ourselves back to the Parable of the Talents. Here we see the servant who doesn’t use the talent he’s been given getting his come-uppance. The servants who put their talents to work were praised.

We’ve all been given gifts by God and really, we should be using them, whether that’s reporting, editing, producing or directing. The trick is to work out what those talents are and head the route that will use them best.

The first decision is whether you are a person who does their best work inside an organizational structure, or if you thrive outside that formal context. My best friend falls into the former category. He simply can’t do a day’s work at home. The very thought brings him out in hives.

So ambition for him, or let’s call that a career structure, looks very formal. He applies for jobs within the organisation in which he works, or similar ones outside. And, because he’s good at what he does, he’s been promoted into the stratosphere.

I, on the other hand, do my best work outside a formal structure. So I really like what we today call a portfolio of work. I call it variety. So, this month, that variety is Bible Society, BBC Radio 4, EasyJet Traveller and The Mail on Sunday. Next month the mix will include The Observer Magazine. So, ambition for me looks very different from how it does for my best friend. Fulfilling my ambition is about producing the best work for nice people.

But I’m a reporter, so my ambitions are about reporting. Between ourselves (and don’t tell anyone) I do have ambitions about reporting more on radio and even doing TV, as well as continuing with print. This is because I’ve got ideas in my head and I want to see them come to fruition. That’s got to be a good thing, right?

What we sometimes confuse with ambition is self-aggrandizement, the desire to climb up a slippery pole and to do so by pushing others down. Climbing up a slippery pole is fine, if it’s your thing. But you’ve got to get there on merit, rather than through bullying, lying, cheating, sleeping around or simply becoming oily.

It’s also important to differentiate what we actually want to do – what motivates us – with what we think we ought to do. It can be easy to think that we must have a particular career because that’s what society dictates. Does it really? And should you honestly?

I’d suggest not. There will be things in your heart that you want to report. That will take you in the right directions for you. So finding contentment in what you do is crucial, rather than comparing yourself with others.

But finally, I’d say this. We’re all journalists and so ambition is at the very core of our being. We are driven to get to the story before anyone else; to get the best quotes; to tell the stories that people haven’t heard before. That’s what makes us work hard and, essentially be good reporters. The day you lose that ambition is the day to hang up your notepad and do something else.

Hazel Southam is a journalist, broadcaster and author of My Year With A Horse. Follow her on Twitter or on Facebook.