Ambition and Intentional Living

Recently, Kathleen and I visited the Huntington Library, Gardens, and Art Collection in Pasadena.  Founded by Henry and Arabella Huntington, their mansion was transformed in a museum after their death in 1927.  Among other outstanding collections, it has an incredible hall of British portraits.  As I walked through the galleries of the political, artistic, social, and military leaders featured in the portraits, I saw serious “intention” in their faces.  They lived their lives strategically and with purpose.  They didn’t leave much to chance when it came to ambition and career goals.  As I studied the paintings of military generals, writers and artists, business and government leaders, I wondered about the place of ambition in my own life.  What would have happened had I lived my life more intentionally?

I wonder if today, we’re the victims of the desire to just live life as it comes – to assume that whatever works out is the best path.  It sounds romantic, but real influence in the world doesn’t come at random.  It rarely happens by accident.  My father was a Southern preacher and had little knowledge of applying strategy to the art of living.  As a result, I was well into my adult life before I even considered career planning or anything close to it.  And by then it was pretty late.

But what if from an early age, I had been groomed to pursue a specific career?  And even if I had picked it myself later, what if I had been more serious?  What if I had pursued my goals with more conviction?  In most religious circles, “ambition” is an ugly word.  But the truth is, what’s wrong with it?  As long as it’s braced with humility, what’s wrong with planning, thinking ahead, and the desire to achieve something significant with our lives?

To influence today’s culture, we need to have the experience, credentials, and relationships that only come by strategic living.  Jesus Christ didn’t just take life as it came.  From the very specific reason for coming to the earth, to the people he talked with, the places he traveled, to the death he chose, he lived his life for a purpose.

Helping you find that intention is the point of my new book:  “One Big Thing:  Discovering What You Were Born to Do.”

Are you living with purpose, intention, and ambition?  Or living at random?  Let me know.


Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Anthony Peterson

    One of your best posts ever Phil. I think desire and ambition are so important because they drive us to excellence. Certainly in the case of my own screenwriting, I wish I had followed my gut instincts alot earlier (like 10 or 15 years ago).

    I had wrongly assumed my career amibitions would be best pursued within the church. In hindsight, I suspect the business models and culture of churches are incompatible with creating competitive filmed entertainment – not necessarily wrong, or evil, just incompatible with creating great stories for film and television. 

  • Great post, Phil.

     Yes, it is best to get on with one’s life career as soon as possible.  Problem is, that takes maturity, maturity at an early age.

    Where can we learn maturity?  Well, perhaps from religion, perhaps even from Christianity, perhaps even from broadcast Christianity.

    Yet, by most measures of maturity… this is not yet established.  The heighth of maturity is measured by humility, self-effacement, holy flexibility vs. rigid controlling rules, examination of how group dynamics trap individuals, abstaining from using demagoguery, establishing the doctrine "there are no rules, only guidelines," the rules of self-critique to ensure survival, the "I could be wrong so tell me when I am," the have-a-plan-B-and-plan-C because as your ruler my plan A may fail, critique of blind faith vs. mature faith…and especially refusing to say "if you donate, blessings automatically return to you, guaranteed by an autonomous god!" 

    And on and on and on.  Broadcast Christianity, by these measures, is immature.  How then can we properly learn truth’s highways of maturity and noble endeavors, then?

  • Barry Armstrong

    “What if…” indeed. What if I had grown up sooner, gained confidence, began living intentionally 20 years ago…30 years ago? I am now determined to finish strong. I do have “some” control of my future. I can’t second guess or regret my past if I want to finish strong. Great post. Thank you.

  • Daniel Reid

    I disagree. Surely you’ve seen "The Passion of the Christ" or "Facing the Giants" or "Fireproof". This I believe is the pinnical of "creative film entertainment". Seems today anybody can slap together some raunchy, sex oriented horror porn flick or some foolishly insignificant off color comedy and take over the box office. True creativity is to step out of the box of what everyone else is creatining "success" from (world wide accepted ignorance) and succeed mightily by the the standards of God!  

  • Esther

    Aw! This hit right so hard… True to your words, ambition is almost seen as prideful in some of our Christian circles. But your words are so timely to this phase of my life. It just tells me go Esther, pursue your dreams! Thank you.

  • George

    according to Genesis 6, God “grew weary of striving with man…” and wiped out all, save Noah and his immediate family because of it & man’s propensity of evil (violence)… so to lean not on our own understanding or to plan your work and work your plan as inspired by the Holy Spirit is an interesting dance…

  • MJ

    Living on purpose and intentional has to be lived with ambition, otherwise what will advance your dreams & goals? What will advance your life without the force of ambition? Ambition can be seen in the Christian world as a derogatory motivational word when it’s lived out of a person’s selfish pursuit such as greed, fame, pride. I wish this word was used and encouraged when I was growing up too, it would have made a difference in my life.
    I can think of several people who I know live a random, accidental life. They aren’t motivated enough to change their life, they’d rather complain about it. At the end of a randomly lived life, all that’s left is mediocrity…. which I believe isn’t far from regret.

  • Great post Phil, thanks for sharing. I agree entirely. We cannot change the past but we can change what is ahead and how we influence our children going forward. I also believe that God can thrust you forward and you can “regain” those years lost to “ignorance” so to say. But regardless of how my story ends, I will live “on purpose” the remaining years God has gifted me.
    Thanks again for this.