“Ain’t got no, don’t need ambition.”

–U.K. Subs, “Ambition”




Might be a peculiar thing to confess: a lack of ambition. I have no idea whether ambition is something innate or something learned. Probably because I wasn’t born with it and didn’t acquire it. For some, ambition manifests itself in the pursuit of wealth, status, fame or whatever motivates conspicuous strivers; for others, it involves lofty but less obvious goals of a more personal nature. Either way, I ain’t got it and don’t need it.




An author I know admitted that he started his series of crime novels with the intention of producing books that would sell well. A musician who made quite a few songs I enjoy openly stated that one of his records was made with the goal of reaching the top of the charts. Both of these people achieved their commercial goals. Perhaps among the famous and monetarily successful such aims are commonplace. I wouldn’t know, never having sought renown or riches. (If I had, I would never have written anything like this.)




Charlie Harper, frontman of the U.K. Subs, penned “Ambition,” which was recorded in 1981 for the album Endangered Species. The song expresses a sentiment that might seem odd coming from a singer who early on intended to make records with titles starting with each letter of the alphabet, which he did, from Another Kind of Blues in 1979 to Ziezo in 2016 (plus some others besides). That accomplishment could be called an ambitious plan realized.

But there’s a difference between ambition and productivity. I don’t think Harper and his ever-changing cast of bandmates expected to make the U.K. Subs a world-famous enterprise like the Rolling Stones, and it’s fair to say they did not. There’s a huge difference between making a lot of records and selling a lot of records. Unlike the chart-topping musician referred above, punk rockers like Harper generally don’t expect to produce hits. That’s not the point. The point is to say what you want say the way you want to say it, regardless of whether that attracts admiration or scorn.

My own lack of ambition didn’t translate into inactivity. A list of my published work – essays, poems, articles, reviews – has hundreds of items on it. Whatever my writing’s literary merit – I make no grand claims for it – there’s plenty of it. I may have never set out to write the great American novel or a bestseller, but I haven’t been lazy. (And there’s a huge difference between writing a lot and attracting a lot of readers.)

Could I have written more? Surely. But why should I have bothered?




While I can’t say how Harper’s lack of ambition sounds to his fellow residents of the United Kingdom, I sense that to most Americans it is akin to a sin. Americans laud the quest for money and celebrity and question the motives, if not the sanity, of those who don’t join it. That this has demonstrably led to the veneration of self-aggrandizing buffoons tragically hasn’t resulted in naked ambition falling into the disrepute it deserves.

Perhaps there’s something positive to be said for a lack of ambition after all.