Restraining harmful ambition
“You can’t beat the smell of fresh ambition in the morning” (ANON)
Some levels of ambition are needed for achievement — the desire or will to succeed at something or to realise a set goal. Channelled correctly, ambition can bring great results. Ambition often gets a bad reputation, however, where the very characteristic that encourages someone achieving success turns into a game where winning isn’t about achieving, but rather in beating someone else. Here, the energy is going into the wrong pursuits.
While many of man’s greatest achievements are the products, or accidents, of man’s ambition, it is important that ambition is healthy. As Neel Burton, psychiatrist and author of “Heaven and Hell: The Psychology of the Emotions”, notes: “People with a high degree of healthy ambition are those with the insight and strength to control the blind forces of ambition, shaping it so that it matches their interests and ideals. They harness it so that it fires them without also burning them and those around them”.
Cultivating a healthy level of ambition is tough and, amidst so much uncertainty, it may seem like a low priority. A well-balanced ambition, however, leads to creativity and innovation, greater levels of performance and deeper levels of joy and satisfaction at work, whatever “work” may be. Ron Carucci, Harvard Business Review: “How ambitious should you be?”, after a lifelong career of coaching executives, developed a helpful model to help people understand how to cultivate and convey ambition in a productive and well-balanced way:
Measuring your own levels of ambition against Carucci’s framework assists with making mid-course corrections, both in attitude and in actions.
Ambition should never be harmful, not for others and neither for you. Ambition is indeed the seat of motivation to move you towards success — but it is not a manipulative power so that you can succeed at all costs. Robin S Sharma notes: “Be a warrior when it comes to delivering on your ambitions. Be a saint when it comes to treating people with respect, modelling generosity and showing up with outright love”.
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Originally published at https://www.stretchforgrowth.com on October 11, 2020.