Ambition is the Enemy of Success
Hey wait a minute Dave! I thought you said Ambition was something I need more of? (Read my take on Ambition here.)
Well, you’re partly right…
The truth is ambition is an incredible and powerful force that humans possess. It’s the superpower that drives us to make something of ourselves and is at the heart of all great achievements. But as with many things in life, ambition can be used for good or for bad.
The reason I’m sharing this cautionary tale with you is because ambition has the potential to do great good but also the frightening possibility of creating bad outcomes.
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In my previous writings about ambition, I brought up the concept that there are different types of ambition. You might remember that in Roman times, the word ambitus, which is the root of our word ambition, was actually a crime of political corruption. Ambitus was the act of using raw power and bribes to win an election. Ambition was looked on suspiciously by the Romans because their definition focused on using one’s ambition in an unscrupulous manner.
However, our understanding of the word ambition today is broader than just use of one’s inner drive to succeed in an unscrupulous way. We think highly of people with ambition and we want to be known as being an ambitious person. So when does ambition go from an incredible force for good to something that is going in a bad direction?
I think a few quotes will illustrate the different ‘flavors’ that ambition can take. They all stem from the same internal force, but you have moral choices to choose that make all the difference in how you use your ambition.
Here are 3 quotes that describe 3 different types of ambition.
“Ambition is not a dirty word. Piss on compromise. Go for the throat.”
― Steven Erikson, Gardens of the Moon
Desire to succeed
“I used to think as I looked out on the Hollywood night — there must be thousands of girls sitting alone like me, dreaming of becoming a movie star. But I’m not going to worry about them. I’m dreaming the hardest.”
Desire to do good
“I would rather be a little nobody, then to be an evil somebody.”
“If a person holds no ambitions in this world, he suffers unknowingly. If a person holds ambitions, he suffers knowingly, but very slowly.”
― Alan Lightman, Einstein’s Dreams
What does it all mean?
Now, it seems to me that out of the four different types of ambition I shared with you, it’s the blind flavor that implies no moral limitations. Obviously it stands to reason that someone who is super ambitious need not take to crime to fulfill their ambitions, but when someone does highly desire to be seen as successful whether it be money or fame without applying any moralistic constraints, this could be a recipe for trouble.
Without carefully using your ambition within a framework of positive, moralistic behaviors, you risk applying your ambition to short term gains while hurting your long term strategy of building allies, support and your reputation.
Start on the Warrior’s Path where you’ll find all the behaviors you need in your tool belt to turn your ambition into success instead of a problem. Warrior’s Path