“Sometimes, our highest goal becomes our big enemy when we move towards our goal blindly without focusing on the path we follow.” -Durgesh Satpathy
Ambition is deeply engrained into the psyche of most people.
As humans it’s natural to be ambitious. It’s the fuel we need to keep driving us towards our goals. We all strive to achieve success and reach our goals.
We may want to hit our targets to secure our bonus or be the number one sales person in our team or we may have high hopes for a promotion to the company board.
Our ambition to shine and perform pushes us to seek the rewards. We have no problem applying more effort and determination in pursuit of our dream.
However, if our drive for success gets out of control and becomes obsessive there can be a huge price to pay.
It can become a vice rather than a virtue.
When the quest for success loses a sense of balance we are said to be caught in the clutches of blind ambition.
The difference between ambition and blind ambition
Many see ambition as a positive quality.
By definition ambition is ‘the persistent and generalized striving for success, attainment, and accomplishment’.
Ambition can empower us to reach our goals in a healthy way. Yet, it’s a quality that if used blindly and excessively it can have negative consequences.
An individual’s hunger to achieve something could become so great that it can lead the person to extreme measures to achieve the outcome they desire.
A potent reminder of this is Shakespeare’s play ‘The Tragedy of Macbeth’. A story that depicts how succumbing to the excessive desires, needs and temptations associated with blind ambition can lead to a tragic outcome.
Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s downfall was a direct result of their quest to grasp ultimate power by ignoring their morals and surrendering to their darkest yearnings.
What are the costs of blind ambition?
In our rush to succeed we disregard the world around us.
The addiction to get somewhere fast throws us off balance. We get so wrapped up in our own desires we forget to acknowledge the people around us that helped us get there.
Blind ambitious often makes us inherently more selfish, driving us to pursue individual goals at the expense of our family, friends and community.
This plays out in many ways. You might choose to work long hours into the night rather than spend quality time with your partner and family.
Alternatively, you might neglect your employees’ needs just to get a bit more productivity out of them.
At these times it becomes virtually impossible for us to stop and explore our motives. We easily misinterpret the messages we are receiving.
Our co-worker’s or family member’s irritations are perceived as whinging and complaining. Criticism is seen as jealousy or sour grapes.
When we become blind to the world around us we start to lose touch. We create enormous friction and confusion for ourselves and others around us.
So how can we identify when blind ambition is becoming a driving force in our quest for success?
How you can tell blind ambition is getting out of control
The following 6 signs give some indication when we are becoming afflicted with blind ambition:
- You’re unable to enjoy the present moment
- The destination seems more important than the journey
- You crave high speed
- You’re anxious and/or depressed
- You’re jealous of the successes of others
- You avoid interactions that won’t further your goals.
- Difficulty relaxing and enjoying simple pleasures.
So knowing this what can we do?
Balancing our ambition
Clearly, some amount of ambition is good for your motivation. Without any ambition, you wouldn’t start your own business, set or achieve goals and get very far in life.
Yet there will always be a serious risk associated when blind ambition raises its head and becomes a driving force in your life.
The consequence of this relentless pursuit of glory has the potential to detrimentally impact our mental health, wellbeing, and relationships.
Maybe our health starts to suffer, or our family become resentful due to the lack of attention.
It’s important to strive for balance: between humility and the drive to succeed, between determination and a grounded perspective.
People with a high degree of healthy ambition are those with the insight and strength to control the blind forces of ambition.
Ultimately this means shaping your ambition so that it matches your interests and ideals. The ambition needs to be harnessed in a way that it fires you up without the risk of burning the people around you.
The strength of being humble
Overcoming blind ambition to achieve balance requires a strong dose of humility.
Positive Pyschology.com defines Humility as:
“…an essential component of moral character that is manifested in modesty, being empathetic, acknowledging and respecting others at a deeper level, and accurately understanding as well as owning our limitations is defined as character strength”.
Adopting a more humble mindset has significant positive effects on our psychological wellbeing and decision making skills. Similarly, it helps safeguard our social functioning.
When we image being humble, we may think of ourselves as being retiring and silent when praised. We may see ourselves as overly modest if asked to receive an award in front of an audience.
This image of humbleness undervalues the true strength of being humble.
True humility is a mindset that involves less focus on self and more on others, and an ability to see the strengths and value of others.
Consider Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Mother Teresa. These were strong individuals who typified humbleness and humility.
Each dedicated their time and energy tirelessly working to improve the living conditions for others. Nevertheless they remained modest and unpretentious throughout their careers.
To be humble is to being patient and diligent when actively applying yourself to the demands and needs of the work at hand.
Humility enables us to see clearly how others have supported us and motivate us to be better people.
How to Practice and build Humility
Exercises that improve a sense of gratitude can increase a humble state of mind.
A research study by Sonja Lyubomirsky found shared strengthening association between gratitude and humility. Each helps foster the other.
Further research indicates people who are both humble and grateful tend to show higher levels of well-being, happiness, and improved mental health.
So how can we build these qualities?
The Greater Good Science Center offers a number of practices to help you build gratitude.
Two of my favorites are:
To see improvement in areas of your life it’s always a great idea if you can measure the improvement.
The Greater Good Science Center offers a quiz to measure your level of gratitude.
I suggest doing it on day 1 then repeating the quiz every 7 days to monitor improvement.
Take away message…
In the end our addiction to getting somewhere fast blinds us to the real situation happening to us. In our quest for success we become lost and confused with reality.
Blind ambition can make it difficult to see problems that need to be addressed and to understand just how destructive our choices can be to our life and the lives around us.
We need to actively look for ways of balance.
Humility offers us the best way forward to harness our healthy ambitious desires.
Combining humility with gratitude can be transformational. It allows us to be able to move beyond our own selfish inclinations and consider others around us.
By take the time each day to consider what you are grateful for in life you are building humility into strength and keeping your ambition under control.
How do you manage your ambition?
Have you found yourself sometimes hooked by blind ambition?
Feel free to leave your comments below.