“Be careful what you wish for, not because you’ll get it but because you’ll be turned into the thing that can get it.” Jed McKenna
Agnes Callard explains the difference between the aspirational and the ambitious. Apply these to McKenna’s “wish” from the quote above. They have everything to do with our identities and the choices we make to be who we are.
Ambition is for the defined. Aspiration is for discovery. The first is fixed, the second is exploratory.
We can be ambitious about reaching what we wish for. The ambition will shape us. How much we’ll sacrifice for our ambitions becomes a key decision-making driver for us personally.
We can be aspirational about uncovering what we believe we’re wishing for. We can understand the philosophical direction we’re plotting in, without having a singular focus. The aspirations will shape us (and our personalities) too.
We need both. We are all a mix of our aspirations and ambitions. It’s well worth reflecting on where one ends and the other begins.
In the advisory work I do, the balance between ambitious goals and aspirational goals is part of almost every conversation.
We save ambition for what we know we want and do our best to define what we’re willing (and not willing) to sacrifice for it. But my job is to make sure we never lose sight of the aspirational either. Because the underpinnings of ambition are rooted in an unknowable future.
If you lose sight of aspirations, the growth mindset calcifies into a fixed focus. This is McKenna’s cautionary point. Do you really want to turn into the thing that can get what you want?
It’s ok if the answer is no. It’s workable if the answer is maybe, especially if you see the wishes as potentially shooting stars within a broader night sky. But as the poet/philosophers in Cypress Hill warned – with McKenna-level McKemphasis,
So you wanna be a rap superstar
And live large
A big house, five cars, you’re in charge
Comin’ up in the world
Don’t trust nobody
Gotta look over your shoulder constantly
Ambitions for our defined goals. Aspirations for our directional discovery. What we wish for, we become, and it’s not good wishing for something we never wanted to become in the first place.