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Family Cruise: Paul on Ambition

HUANHINE, Society Islands – This ship carries billions.

During any minute of any day, I may walk past a real-estate mogul, an oil tycoon, an Olympian, a retired Fortune 500 CEO—all in one hallway.

I watch them on their way to bet thousands at the ship's casino. I witness them purchase bottles of wine that could pay for my first apartment. They double-order beluga and then tip in double zeros. Money is no concern. They've earned it. Now they spend it. These successful men and women stand as testaments to ambitions followed, and dreams therefore actualized.

Whether they're playing paddle tennis, bridge or bingo, they compete with a driven sense of achievement, as if their every action further defines their character. It's hard to resist adopting their mentality. Ambition is what's propelled these 70- and 80-year-olds to afford world cruises and kept them sharp enough to enjoy it. Surrounded by ambition, I begin to wonder if I have enough to get me where I want to go.

My father never gave me money to spend with friends. He refused me a weekly allowance. When my high school buddies started driving Jettas, courtesy of their parents, my dad used the idea of a first car as an incentive to start me working.

I understand now that it wasn't because he was a miser (though a bit of a penny-pincher) or because he was completely uncool (though he has his dorky tendencies). He was showing me that if I wanted the things money could buy, it would have to come from within, not from outside.

When I entered college I realized that a majority of my freshman class had not learned this lesson. Girls who admitted they had never held a job removed their Gucci sunglasses to pull gold cards from Louis Vuitton purses. Two of my roommates still received a weekly check from mommy and daddy (which they subsequently spent on beer and drugs). The Jettas of yesterday had grown into Escalades and Mustangs. I, on the other hand, walked around town, slogged away for $26 per week at the campus newspaper, and subsisted on falafels from a street vendor.

My father was still footing my tuition, but I felt guilty for his generosity. Slowly, ambition took root. I wanted to show him his investment was worth it, but I also wanted to gain an independence. I wanted to accomplish goals I could call my own. I turned down my mother's offers for grocery gift cards. I took on a senior writer position ($50 per week!) at the newspaper. I paid my own rent. And eventually, I gained a sense that I could make it.

I often worry about the Gucci girls from college. I wonder what will happen after daddy pulls their pumps out from under them. I wonder how the Mustang men will fare when their first boss demands they speed it up or face the consequences. Who will they trust, if not themselves, to provide the luxury they're accustomed to?

Whenever I talk to someone successful on this ship, they mention "struggle" and "risk," but they do it with a smile. They take hardship as a partner to ambition, a factor that transforms something like a world cruise into a surrealistic reward. They haven't inherited it; they've earned it. I'm fortunate that my father has brought me on this cruise, but I dream of the day when I can pay for the ride.

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