Creative Leadership

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.

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  1. 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. 

  2. 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?

  3. “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.

  4. Excellent, exellent question. I feel like the poster boy for the Modern Random Life. I have ambition but it is not directed at anything I have true passion for. I know I need to live on purpose, but I have little idea what that purpose should be.

    My only consolation is that i belive in God and that I am wiling to ask these questions of myself. 
    I know in my soul that asking myself and seeking answers to, "Are you living with purpose, intention, and ambition?  Or living at random?" is important. But it also makes clear to me that I have not lived a life with any of those things to this point. I am so random that there are times when I get disinterested in my own life. 


  5. A friend and mentor challenged me not too long ago with the notion that Christians need to develop a theology of ambition and theology of ethics simultaneously.  Christians with ethics but no ambition are irrelevant; Christians with ambition but no ethics are dangerous.

  6. Great post, I’m sending this to my 16 year old son.

    I want God to order my steps, but that doesn’t mean I just sit there…I must keep moving. A GPS does me no good if I’m not driving.

    Too often I see the pattern go like this: decide on how much I want to make and find a job that pays that much. Instead we need to allow God to stir up in us a passion and follow it boldly. It’s about letting God move us, not life.


  7. And yet, could it be that sometimes God uses our seemingly wandering paths and side-trips  through life to mold us into WHO he wants us to be…rather than WHAT we want to be? 

    …(Having said that, I DO wonder how much more I could accomplish if I cut down on Internet surfing/e-mail, etc. and am taking steps…Oops!  Time to get off the Internet… :-D)

  8. 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!  

  9.  I truely believe that "experience" is just that; things that we have experienced. The true question here is "How did we react when we encountered the experience"? Were our reactions based on an emotional response or by a foundation built upon the character of God? Then, how do we process and store the information of the experiece that we have encountered? Discernment and wisdom truley are the principle things when it comes to maturity. Focus and purposeful intent a about anything, mean nothing unless the foundation that are built upon is Truth. When we first focus on God’s Word and pursue Him is when everything else falls in place. After all the word say "love never fails", so if we base all our reactions, and everything we say on "Love", God’s love in us, then we grow by our victories. If failars come, they come of our own accord and if we are truely walking in Love the we remain teachable. True humility is obeying every word God has spoken. That includes being "studied up" in the Word enough to hear His voice and recognize our mistakes and take the measures needed to correct them. That is "maturity. "Experiece", "destiny", "goals", "carreers", "dreams", "desires" all are fruitless without God Word as their basis. They will all be temporary at best. That is why so many people seem to be wandering aimlessly through life, taking as it comes. The focus should always be on GOD FIRST, then "All these THINGS shall be added unto you".

  10. So with "Facing the Giants" and "Fireproof" the "standards of God" mean bad acting, poor scriptwriting, and really cheesy movies?

  11. No it means, substance and integrity based on the Word of God. Most Christians I’m sure would agree that they would take substance over the vomit that comes out of most "box office hits". Don’t get me me wrong, quality performance from Christian based movies is nowhere near what it needs to be entice people away from the norm, but it is miles from where it started a few years back. And as with all Godly things it will become overpowering and victorious if pursued diligently.

  12. Great post, Phil.

    Most of us live our professional lives helping other people attain their ambitions. We have little time to have anything resembling a well-rounded life, let alone focus on strategically pursuing our purpose or being intent on our own intentionality.

    I long to live with intention and purpose. But right now, I’m like Aaron or Hur, holding up some other leader’s arms. It’s not what I set out to do, but that’s where I am for now. I will be faithful, work as a good steward and servant, and hopefully the Lord of the Harvest will reward me in season.

    [by the way, the Huntington Library and Gardens are in San Marino – not Los Angeles. Kat and I lived just blocks away on Allen Avenue and loved to push a stroller there.]

  13. What’s wrong with creating substance and quality?  Why entice people away from the norm?  Can’t we create good, quality storytelling that gets people’s attention?  Yes, movies like SAW and American Pie sell, but so do Titanic, Star Wars, ET, Spider-Man, Lord of the Rings and The Dark Knight (which incidentally *ARE* the big box office hits).  Just because others, in the "real world" aspire to create crap doesn’t mean we should as well.  Christians should be aspiring to true excellence far above what sells or doesn’t sell.  And you don’t need a big budget to make an excellent film either.  It’s time to get our heads out of our collective, whatevers, get out of the subculture ghetto and make GREAT art, period.  The world will follow and will notice.

  14. Amen.  You can’t turn a parked car.  "God is more ready to forgive the blotted page of endeavor than the blank page of giving up."

  15. 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.

  16. 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…

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

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