The Two Sides of Ambition

· November 19, 2018

Ambition is paradoxical. Some schools of thought condemn ambition, while others praise it. In fact, ambition is one of those traits that we aren’t sure whether to classify as a virtue or a flaw. That’s why we decided to talk about the two sides of ambition.

Merriam Webster defines ambition as ‘an ardent desire for rank, fame, or power’. The definition itself shows the two sides of ambition. On one hand, the desire to achieve a difficult goal. On the other hand, trivial goals

“Ambition never is in a greater hurry than I; it merely keeps pace with circumstances and with my general way of thinking.”

-Napoleon Bonaparte-

There’s another way to see the two sides of ambition: when someone is overly ambitious or not ambitious enough. If you aren’t ambitious enough, you’re simply settling with your current reality. It’ll be difficult for you to evolve or grow. If you’re overly ambitious, you might do unscrupulous things. You might decide to go for what you want no matter the cost.


Lack of ambition and conformity

Society spews messages that encourage people to accept things the way they are. They tell people not to try to change things and just resign to current situations. This can be a positive message if the thing you desire is impossible to achieve. For example, when a loved one dies and you don’t want to accept it.

An unambitious guy.

However, in other circumstances, this same message can be harmful. Usually, this message has its origin in fear, authoritarianism, or both. Human beings naturally strive to be better. We don’t just resign ourselves to our fate. This message comes from schools of thought that want to promote obedience. That makes it easier to control people.

Fear, lack of self-confidence, or excessive dependence on an external power can make you a conformist. In other words, you give up your ambition. You stick with what life offers you and you don’t try to get anything else.

Greed and over-ambition

At the other end of the spectrum is greed. Greed is all about boundless desire and coveting success and fame. Greed is like a bottomless pit because what you have never seems to be enough. You always want more and more. If you’re greedy, you’ll never be satisfied.

Greed is a toxic feeling. It drags you to hell and takes down those around you as well. Greed won’t stop for anything. Greedy people believe that the ends justify the means. The most important thing is to get more and more. It doesn’t matter what you have to do to get it.

A couple in front of a chalkboard with strong arms drawn there.

People let themselves be taken over by greed because they feel like something is missing in their lives. It isn’t necessarily that they’re actually lacking something. That’s just how they feel. They can’t bear to lack anything, no matter how small. Deep down, they feel like this will someday fill the void they have inside.

The two sides of ambition

You can see now that there are two sides of ambition. You can be overly ambitious or unambitious. But this also depends on the motives that drive your ambition. How do you manage it and what’s your end goal?

Ambition and great dreams are made of the same material. They both imply enormous effort and tough decisions. You have to take risks and take unknown paths to get what you want. In that sense, ambition is a virtue. It takes you out of your comfort zone and inspires you to do more. It’s the source of important achievements in life.

The two sides of ambition also have to do with your purpose. Is your purpose constructive or obsessive and selfish? In both cases, you need strength to reach your goal. However, they’re not the same. If your goals are admirable, your ambition is positive. If you only want to make yourself look good and feed narcissism, then it becomes a flaw.

A business woman with ambition climbing stairs.

Encouraging unambition and conformity isn’t good. This only feeds insecurities and devalues peoples’ efforts to do better. However, you also shouldn’t encourage unbridled ambition to get more and more. The key is to learn to balance the two sides of ambition and understand their subtle differences.