ho IS YOUR AMBITION KILLING YOU? | Peter Sardi School of Acting

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“YOUR AMBITION IS KILLING YOU.”  I first heard this phrase spoken by Sanford Meisner.  It was addressed to a young acting student during a class.  The phrase was spoken by Sanford Meisner at the conclusion of the young student (let’s call him Sam) completing an exercise.  

Sam was a very ‘good’ student.  He worked hard.  He did his homework.  He practiced at every opportunity.  Sam wanted to become not just a good actor but he wanted to become a great actor.  All Sam’s efforts were focused on achieving his goal.  Nothing was going to get in Sam’s way in pursuit of his goal.  Every time Sam got up in his acting class to work, his aim was to be the best in his class.  He wanted Sanford Meisner and the class to acknowledge his work more than anything else.  It was obvious by watching Sam in class that he truly was a dedicated actor and probably worked harder than any of his fellow students.  Sam was a model student.  So why did Sanford Meisner, acknowledged, for sixty years, as one of the great acting teachers of the twentieth century, say: “Sam, your ambition is killing you?”

Sam’s desire, to get acknowledgement from Sandford Meisner and his fellow acting students, became so magnified and all important that it undermined and sabotaged his work.  Sam’s need to be acknowledged, dare I say ‘liked’, by his peers frustrated and hindered his work in acting class.  Sam’s intense ambition to be validated and to be liked crippled him.
His ambition was killing him.

An acting class can be seen as a microcosm of society where individuals, organizations ambitiously strive.  Strive to compete, to be better, to achieve, to accomplish, to get ahead, to win, to produce results.  This excessive focus on a desired outcome, a desired ‘result’, is fuelled by our need to be validated by some ‘other’ some authority figure.   We need somebody else to tell us how good we are.

We all want approval.  We all want to be acknowledged.  But when this becomes our main reason/intention for doing something, we stand to lose.   What is it exactly we stand to lose?  The joy of being fully present in what we are doing, unencumbered by the desire for some specific outcome, some specific result. 

I am reminded of a quote by the Australian writer Thomas Keneally where he says:
“It is only when you abandon your ambitions that they become possible.”   


Viktor E. Frankl  states in:  “Man’s Search for Meaning.”

“Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long-run—in the long-run, I say!—success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it.”


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