- Hardcover: 240 pages
- Publisher: Jossey-Bass; 1 edition (January 4, 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0787956333
- ISBN-13: 978-0787956332
- Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 7 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,080,566 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Forgetting Ourselves on Purpose: Vocation and the Ethics of Ambition 1st Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
Do we all have "shadow governments of compassion and idealism"? In this odd, sometimes disjointed but always engaging meditation on the relationship between vocation and ambition, Mahan answers yes. Referencing Thomas Merton, Frederick Buechner, William James, Walker Percy and Leo Tolstoy, Mahan muses rather than argues, and ends each chapter with assignments gleaned from the college courses he has taught on this topic. For example, at the end of one chapter, he invites readers to hold a national press conference at which they attempt to rationalize an episode in their lives when they engaged in repeated self-deception leading to serious moral compromise. Each chapter and assignment leads readers, in one way or another, to examine the tension between the lives they would live governed by compassion, in complete harmony with God's calling, entered into via "epiphanies of recruitment" and the socially scripted, ambition-driven lives they do live. Pleasantly surprising is Mahan's light touch: he never resorts to heavy-handed homilies about how bereft conventional lives are, but rather invites readers to observe themselves living such lives, and to do so nonjudgmentally, with equal parts good humor, discomfort, acceptance and motivation to change. While encouraging readers to attempt mystical and imaginative exercises, Mahan ultimately avoids prescription. On the contrary, he ends by suggesting that ambition and vocation are not mutually exclusive, and that God delights in any and all attempts that flawed, inevitably ambitious people make to live according to their ideals.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
In a short book demanding a slow reading, Christian educator Brian Mahan challenges the American cult of success with its inevitable apotheosis of the triumphant self. Convening an improbable conclave of spiritual advisors--Christian devotionalists, psychological theorists, and modern novelists--Mahan invites readers to probe the origins and consequences of their personal ambitions. Again and again, our cravings for wealth and prominence betray our vulnerability to self-deception and alienation, as we rationalize choices that suppress our authentic impulses of benevolence and idealism. To help recover our suppressed aspirations, Mahan guides us through the tasks of "formative remembering" (What am I living for?) and "spiritual misdirection" (What is distracting me from my true aims?). Honest engagement with these tasks draws us into the paradox of deliberate self-forgetfulness and toward the joyous discovery of what Mahan calls vocation: the proper dedication of our unique talents to meeting the needs of others. A priceless book for readers whose march through success manuals has left them with only emptiness and cynicism. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Mahan developed this book out of a course he taught at the University of Colorado, and later Emory's seminary and high school advancement programme - the course has always been popular, Mahan states, but it isn't always clear why. Mahan attaches some of the popularity to the presence of the word `ambition' in the course title (which is also part of the subtitle of this book) - the focus of the world is often on success, and rising high school and college students are often ambitious in various ways. However, it is not the kind of political/corporate ambition, or the kinds of ambitions that make soap operas interesting to watch sometimes, that Mahan develops here (although these types are not disconnected from what Mahan writes). Mahan is looking more directly at the ambition toward self and self-fulfillment.
Mahan develops ideas of paradox throughout the text. How can we honestly pursue self-abandonment if the very pursuit shows an attachment to self? When can success end up being a failure, and how is failure often a success? Mahan uses personal stories and experiences as well as the tales of those around him to illustrate the various points - he also draws on history, sometimes the lesser known bits. For example, to highlight the failure of success, Mahan draws upon the curious dinner between film star Rudolph Valentino and curmudgeonly writer H.L. Mencken - Mencken was ostensibly consulted on how to deal with the press, but figured out later that what Valentino really sought was validation and direction in how to turn his failure of a successful career into something with true meaning.
This is perhaps the heart of Mahan's text as a whole - the search for meaning in life. What is point of success if it has no meaning? Meaning requires more than simple (or even elaborate) gratifications of the ego, the flesh, the persona. It requires an honest appraisal of who we are as individuals, how we relate and fit in to our communities (large and small), and how our lives are responding to the vocations, the `higher callings' if you will, that have been given to us.
Mahan is a Roman Catholic layperson, so many of his stories draw from this tradition. However, Mahan's text is drawn broadly enough to incorporate people from all faith traditions, or those with no particular tradition or affiliation. Mahan's story about sneaking into heaven is a good example - as a child, Mahan had experiences with a particular convent in Boston, and he felt in many ways he found a way to commune with God there that was if not directly at odds with the officially line, at least in some ways apart from how one, as a good Catholic, would get into heaven. Mahan's image of God being one who does not just stand among the alabaster and marble statues, but also works in the kitchen (where `you could have cooked maybe a hundred turkeys at once and the mashed potatoes to go with them').and welcomes even the not-quite-so-good children in the back door.
Each of the chapters comes with suggested practices (remember, Mahan is a teacher!). These are spiritual practices that can be deceptively easy. They are truly worth engaging in long-term and introspective ways. They are practices that may come forward again and again, and do not constitute a set of `been-there, done-that, moving-on' kinds of activities to simply get through. The reader who takes the time to engage herself or himself fully in these practices will find a transformation taking place.
One of the key differences between ambition in the more worldly sense and the type of vocation and ambition that Mahan discusses is the connection to others. Mahan quotes James Fowler's summary of vocation, including the observation that those in vocation are `augmented by others' talents' rather than finding them a threat or competition (often the case in politics and corporate models of ambition). We also see our limitations as important as, if not more important than, our gifts and strengths.
Mahan writes about the differences between occupation and preoccupation, saying that vocational awareness has more to do with the latter. Fitting into a life of our true vocation requires awareness of who we really are, as opposed to what it is we are doing. We also need to be flexible and allow for change (something often more easily done in our preoccupations than our formal occupations).
The spirituality of Merton is very present; the spiritual sense that infuses many religions is on every page. This is a great book for the seeker, those longing for direction, and those who want more out of life in the most meaningful of ways.
In a sense, Mahan's book is an extended meditation on Thomas Merton's call, "If you want to identify me, ask me not where I live, or what I like to eat, or how I comb my hair, but ask me what I think I am living for, in detail, and ask me what I think is keeping me from living fully for the the thing I want to live for."
However, this is not an "easy read." In parts, it gets a bit dense. (I found myself reading certain passages several times to get at Mahan's point.) However, I do think it would be a great book for audiences as diverse as college students who are trying to figure out what to do with themselves, mid-career executives who are struggling to move form "success to significance," as well as anyone striving to find some order in their lives as they pursue both their ambitions as well as their vocations. Heck, this is a book for all "baby boomers" who at one time felt they had been called to "change the world" in the name of "love,peace and justice" only to find themselves becoming precisely what they, at one time, detested.
The book includes a number of wonderful "practices" reminiscent of Walker Percy's "Lost in the Cosmos."
I encourage anyone who asks how to live a meaningful life in a world that forevers seeks to drain us of life to read this book.
I would give it more stars but Amazon only allows five.