A long time ago, when I was in college, I think, I heard a story about Einstein. I think one of my professors told it. He said that Einstein was being interviewed and was asked, “Who is the smartest person you’ve ever known?” Einstein gave a name, and the interviewer followed up with, “Why haven’t I ever heard of him?” Einstein responded by saying, “He’s too smart to be ambitious.”
I’ve never heard the story repeated. Nor have I ever been able to find any evidence of it on the internet. I’m pretty sure it’s apocryphal. If anyone else has heard the story, let me know, though. I always liked the story anyway. I’m probably the least ambitious person I’ve ever met.
I’ve never even really understood ambition. I have no desire for power or money or any of society’s standard markers of success. If I can pay all my bills and have enough leftover to see a movie on Saturday night, I’m good. More than that seems like a hassle.
It’s not laziness. I definitely have pride. Whatever I do, I want to do it well. I’ve always worked hard. I don’t really know why I lack ambition. I’ve never been able to successfully analyze myself in that respect. I suspect part of it is from my general wish not to be noticed (Don’t worry, I see the irony of writing for public consumption while hoping not to be noticed). I hope part of it is a desire to be happy with what I have instead of constantly striving. But, I don’t think that fully explains it. I guess I have to give my therapist something to do.
Society makes me feel like there’s something wrong with me for not being ambitious. Ambition is the thing most likely to be rewarded by society. When you look at the people who are held up as examples of success, ambition is what they all have in common. It rarely has to do with talent or intelligence or charisma. I’m not saying that successful people are not talented, smart, or charismatic. Plenty of ambitious people are all three. But, ambition can make a person successful without any of the three, while all three don’t seem to be enough for people without ambition.
I don’t know why I’m writing this, except that it’s getting late and I have nothing else to post today and I promised a post a day. I kind of want to delete it. I’m pretty sure it will come off as some kind of perverted humblebrag. Like anti-snob snobbery. That’s not what I intended, though. I guess the societal pressure to be ambitious has been a bit more intense lately, and I just wanted to justify or defend myself a little bit. Clearly I like the Einstein story because it allows me to think that even if society doesn’t get me, Einstein would have.