How to Nurture Healthy Ambition in a Competitive World

Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.’ ~Albert Einstein

Are you an ambitious person?

Are you constantly striving to reach that next goal and achieve that next level of success?

Society sees ambition as a positive quality.

Ambitious people are always hardworking, dedicated, and determined; however being excessively ambition in life can have detrimental consequences.

It has the potential to damage reputations, destroy relationships, lead to failure and undermine performances.

The author James Clear beautifully articulates the cost of over-ambition:

Rich people go bankrupt chasing even more wealth.

Fit people get injured chasing personal records.

Productive people become ineffective taking on too many projects.

Don’t let your ambition ruin your position.”

Understanding the problem at a deeper level

“Ambition is enthusiasm with a purpose”
– Frank Tyger

Whatever your definition of success, it’s based on an ambition to achieve something.  You’re looking for that thing that is in the future. You feel that you are missing something you want and need.

But here’s the thing. It becomes a trap. It’s never-ending.

You end up striving for more. Then when you get it, you want more again. You’re never satisfied.

Money can be a classic example. You have made billion dollars- Is that enough?

Why would you possibly need more than a billion dollars?

How can you possibly spend that much?

However you decide to be more ambitious and then decide to strive to make more. It’s never enough. 

This is true not just of the rich, but of anyone who is ambitious and striving for more success. Striving is a condition that doesn’t have an end, unless you give it up.

So what constitutes sensible and meaningful ambition?

How to balance ambition in a competitive world.

A man’s worth is no greater than the worth of his ambitions

– Marcus Aurelius

Fostering a healthy level of ambition in a very competitive world will never be easy. Our western cultures are primed on materialism and achieving more. Everyone is striving to be the best.

It becomes very important that we take the time to make peace and understand the realism of the ambitions we seek.

There’s the potential we could waste a lot of time and energy – and suffer a lot of grief – chasing ambitions that could never be realistically attained.

Maybe just earning a living and getting by for some is ambition enough.

A well-balanced, ambition leads to creativity and innovation, greater levels of performance, and deeper levels of joy and satisfaction.

We need to cultivate a framework that helps us understand how to nurture and express ambition in a productive and well-balanced way. A brilliant article in Harvard Business Review called ‘How Ambitious Should You Be?’ looks closely at this very topic.

The author Ron Carucci suggested that striking a healthy level of ambition is accomplished by developing three key areas:

  • Performance,
  • Growth,
  • Achievement.

Performance ambition.

Ambition begins by appreciating the desires or objectives you have for yourself.

These desires are frequently conveyed in the form of goals. They define your desired outcomes.

Knowing how far to reach for any given desire is crucial to harnessing healthy ambition.

Setting goals that involve just the right level of difficulty and discomfort helps push you to reach beyond your current level of capability.

If the task is too challenging, you run the risk of giving up or becoming discouraged when you fall short.

Alternatively, if the task is too easy, you risk becoming bored or never realizing the full potential of your efforts.

Growth ambition.

While performance ambition is vital to making progress, many believe that it is all you need. Yet your ambition should not be entirely focused on reaching desired outcomes and gaining the resulting rewards.

To be successful, you need to balance that aspiration with growth ambition.

You need to plan how you will actually reach those outcomes. How will you breech the gap from where you are today to where you want to be?

You need to uncover the learning gaps that are holding you back from reaching your goals.

Achievement ambition.

Achievement, as a characteristic of ambition, has the potential to be the most damaging.

On the journey towards success, when the performance and growth components of ambition take a back seat to achievement, you could easily be perceived as being propelled by greed and self-indulgence.

It can become an unhealthy approach when your commitment and expectations shift solely towards the potential rewards.

Ultimately, the key to maintaining a healthy level of motivation for the rewards is by ensuring your quest for achievement doesn’t come at the expense of others around you.

The Takeaway Message

What are you ambitious for?

Do you try to nurture a healthy approach to ambition in your life?

Ron Carucci’s views healthy ambition as; “Focusing on performance provides the impetus to lean into growth areas while ensuring your commitment isn’t hijacked by the seductions of achievement”.

This definition suggests people with a high degree of healthy ambition are those with the insight and strength to control the blind forces of achievement.

Those blind forces are the desires that keep pushing you to achieve more and more. The rewards.

Your inherent desires to perform at your best, to grow and become better, and to achieve rewards from your efforts, all reflect your unique individualism in a materialistic world.

Harnessing those desires is super important to nurturing a healthy approach to ambition in life.

So how can you harness your ambition to achieve the big goals in your life?

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