The Pernicious Effects of Misplaced Ambition and Aspiration.: The Wisdom of Adam Smith
February 7, 2023
2 min read
Here is a great quote from Smith’s 1759 book The Theory of Moral Sentiments where he lays out good reasons not to be discontent with not being rich and famous.
As I get older I tend to look back on life and feel remorse for not living up to some potential that I delude myself I had to become a grander person than I find myself being. I know that is baloney that my mind spins when left to its own devices. This quote helps me silence that voice.
The great source of both the misery and disorders of human life, seems to arise from over-rating the difference between one permanent situation and another. Avarice over-rates the difference between poverty and riches: ambition, that between a private and a public station: vain-glory, that between obscurity and extensive reputation. The person under the influence of any of those extravagant passions, is not only miserable in his actual situation, but is often disposed to disturb the peace of society, in order to arrive at that which he so foolishly admires. The slightest observation, however, might satisfy him, that, in all the ordinary situations of human life, a well-disposed mind may be equally calm, equally cheerful, and equally contented. Some of those situations may, no doubt, deserve to be preferred to others: but none of them can deserve to be pursued with that passionate ardour which drives us to violate the rules either of prudence or of justice; or to corrupt the future tranquillity of our minds, either by shame from the remembrance of our own folly, or by remorse from the horror of our own injustice.
I am happier and more content than I have ever been in my life. My small station in life allows me time and freedom to pursue my interests and let my idiosyncrasies develop and show me who I truly am. Its a lovely place to be and I have strived to get here. The above is one of the talismans I use to remind myself of the folly of chasing fame and fortune. It is wise counsel and I hope you find it helpful too.
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