We Could All Use Some Ambition To Excel

Adams wanted us to strive for excellence, to never tire in our relentless pursuit of doing something worthwhile for one or for many.

“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year. He is rich who owns the day, and no one owns the day who allows it to be invaded with fret and anxiety.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

In 1826, John Adams passed most of his time at his home called Peacefield in Quincy, Massachusetts. The second United States president was retired from public life and was spending his hours thinking, reflecting, and above all, longing for his beloved wife, Abigail, who had died some eight years earlier. Adams’ feud with Thomas Jefferson was somewhat reconciled by this time, and both men had exchanged hand-written letters.

It would be the last year of Adams’ life (he and Jefferson actually both died on July 4, 1826). But up to the very end, his craving for information and learning never wavered, and he never shied away from sharing his opinions on current events. In his home library, there were over 2,000 volumes of books that he spent time reading.

One day, a recent Harvard graduate named Ralph Waldo Emerson came to spend time with Adams in the library, listening to him reminisce about the birth of our country and the 12 years it took to form. The longer the conversation went, the more it became evident to Emerson that Adams, along with many others, sacrificed their agendas for the greater good of the young nation. Yet, that was not what Emerson remembered most. What struck him deeply was Adams’ passion for what the country lacked, and needed most: People with the “ambition to excel.”

Ambition to excel was the most profound concern Adams felt in the final year of his life. Adams said: “I wish to God there were more ambition in the country.” And then he paused and said, “By that, I mean ambition of the laudable kind, ambition to excel. Not ambition to get rich or famous or powerful but to excel. That’s when human beings are at their best. I like people who work hard; the people who are best at what they do almost without exception are also the hardest workers.”

Adams wanted us to strive for excellence, to never tire in our relentless pursuit of doing something worthwhile for one or for many. To not be driven by recognization, or financial gain, instead by the thirst to excel for the greater good.    

We have that moment before us right now. The time away from the daily work grind because of the virus has given us a chance to reconnect with ourselves, to refocus our core beliefs, to strategize our new commitments. To become the best we can, to reset our ambitions, to promote excelling ahead of everything else. No matter what project you accomplish today, make it your most exceptional work. 

Make every day your ambition to excel. 


P.S. If you are in search of a book recommendation, our team at The Daily Coach highly recommends Awareness: The Perils and Opportunities of Reality by Anthony De Mello. The heart of Anthony de Mello's bestselling spiritual message is awareness. Mixing Christian spirituality, Buddhist parables, Hindu breathing exercises, and psychological insight, de Mello's words of hope come together in Awareness in a grand synthesis. In short chapters for reading in quiet moments at home or at the office, he cajoles and challenges: We must leave this go-go-go world of illusion and become aware.


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