Some half-formed thoughts about ambition...
I didn't really have any, for the longest time. Or at least not much. And I think I frowned on it, to some extent, since so many of the very ambitious people I saw around me were either really unethical or really unhappy.
Early in my PhD program, I remember talking with a guy who was poised to be the next Derrida. I told him that I could sense that he would be a star, and that he would be good at that - that profile would fit him. And I said that I'd hate to be a star, that I'd rather just be somewhere quietly where I could teach, and be well thought of. That's all I could imagine wanting, asking for. Not long after that, I remember declaring to someone that I'd be just fine teaching at a community college. (Now, this means something different where I live from what it means in the States. It means a vocational college, essentially. Where nobody majors in Humanities, they major in plumbing or nursing or graphic design or whatever. And a few Humanities courses are just tacked on as breadth requirements - writing courses, critical thinking courses, etc.)
No longer would I even consider teaching at a community college in Canada. And, while I don't want to be a star by any means - too much pressure! too many politics! and I'm ultimately too shy - I would like to have my work read by a few people, recognized. Yesterday I gave a talk at a small conference here at Dream Uni, a conference showcasing the work of some of the uni's researchers in the Humanities. I was happy to be well received, to have my work recognized here, to think it might have an impact on someone. I want that. I think all this translates into ambition. (This all reminds me of MaggieMay's post, a few weeks back, on how nice it is to achieve recognition at her college...)
So of course, I rethink my feelings about ambition. I see that for me, this just means recognition of the thinking work I do. The time and care that goes into it. My ideas. And with my excitement about collaboration lately - on two panels, on some other stuff - I see that ambition also means, for me, achieving the respect and regard that means people will want to embark on projects with me.
I am also ambitious in the sense that I want to able to be taken seriously where I work (wherever that is!). I want my contributions to matter in the university. Again, I want my ideas to matter - in a service context. This is about voice, I guess. I am ambitious in the sense that I want my voice heard.
That makes me realize how much academia has changed me, especially over the last few years. I've written about this before - about how teaching has brought me out of my shell. I once barely knew I had a voice that could matter. Now that I do, I think that for me, ambition is about respecting that voice.