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by David N Johnson

July 12, 2023

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Today, I want to talk about something a bit unconventional, a tad bit counterintuitive – ambition. Yes, the very word that fuels our dreams and aspirations.

Yet, let’s tread the road less traveled today and look at the unseen aspect of this seemingly glittering trait. The focus isn’t to demonize ambition but rather to highlight the importance of embracing a balanced approach. Let’s embark on this journey together, shall we?

I am known for my own ambition. I used to move forward so doggedly towards my own goals that I neglected other important aspects of my life. It’s taken a lot of meditation and focus for me to understand that true success takes more than just the pursuit of career. It also includes an equal focus on relationships, health, and spirituality. You see, ambition left unchecked can narrow your vision so drastically that you only see one thing, causing you to neglect other important aspects of your life.

Ambition, as we know, often plays the good guy. It’s that internal engine that drives us to climb mountains, metaphorically, and sometimes, literally! Remember that time when you pulled an all-nighter to prepare for an important presentation? Or perhaps, those long hours you spent practicing for the school play? That’s ambition!

Unmasking Ambition: Society’s Golden Child or a Double-Edged Sword?

Let’s start with a little thought experiment. Picture the word “ambition.” What comes to mind? High-reaching goals? Climbing corporate ladders? Graduating top of the class? Often, it’s these images of success that pop up. And it’s no surprise why! As a society, we’re sort of hardwired to admire and praise ambition. It’s the fuel for many success stories, right?

Let’s throw some light on this with some hard facts. A fascinating study from Harvard Business School found that employers often choose ambitious candidates over competent ones. Startling, isn’t it? This indicates the pedestal we’ve placed ambition on. We’re so smitten by the allure of ambition, that sometimes, we overlook other equally significant traits.

While we’re on this, let’s not forget the inspiring stories we’ve grown up with. Think Steve Jobs. His relentless ambition led him to co-found Apple and revolutionize the tech industry. Or consider Michael Jordan. His unwavering ambition made him one of the greatest athletes of all time. These are the figures our society often holds up as beacons of ambitious success.

But here’s where we pause and ponder – Is ambition always a ticket to success? Or could it have a flip side we often tend to overlook? Spoiler alert: the answer may not be as straightforward as you think. But stick with me as we explore this intriguing possibility together.

The Dark Side of Unchecked Ambition

Now, let’s navigate the less explored territory – the shadows cast by unchecked ambition. While ambition can propel us forward, it’s equally important to realize that without proper guidance, it can also lead us astray.

The Enron scandal is a chilling reminder of the potential pitfalls of unchecked ambition. Driven by the insatiable hunger for success, the folks at Enron engaged in widespread corporate fraud. Instead of becoming the most innovative company they aspired to be, they went down in history as a striking symbol of corporate misconduct. A classic instance of ambition without boundaries, wouldn’t you agree?

But here’s the thing. It’s not all a downward spiral. There are those who, standing at the crossroads of ambition and ethics, chose the path less travelled. Let me share with you a contrasting example – the story of the outdoor clothing brand, Patagonia.

When Patagonia discovered that their cotton supply chain was causing severe environmental harm, they were at a pivotal point. They could’ve turned a blind eye, prioritizing profit over the planet. Instead, they did something unprecedented. They transitioned to 100% organic cotton, despite the financial blow.

Ambition, meet ethics.

Their ethical decision initially led to a significant cost increase. But fast forward to today, Patagonia is not only thriving but is also highly respected for its commitment to sustainability. This demonstrates how ambition, when tethered to ethical behaviour, can yield success that’s both profitable and fulfilling.

Next, let’s consider how unchecked ambition can strain personal relationships. Picture a friend who’s perpetually tied up, canceling plans last minute because a work issue came up. The lure of ambition keeps them on a relentless treadmill, often neglecting cherished relationships. It’s not an unfamiliar tale, is it?

And finally, there’s the risk of disregard for others. When ambition blots out everything else, we may overlook the needs of our community. A society where individual ambitions eclipse collective wellbeing, is that a society we aspire to be a part of?

By now, you might be wondering, “How do I keep my ambition from casting long, unruly shadows?” Well, I’m glad you asked. Let’s explore the answer together in the next section.

Navigating the Tightrope: Strategies for Achieving Balanced Ambition

Now that we’ve traversed the terrain of unchecked ambition, let’s dive into how we can foster a more balanced form of ambition, one that marries personal achievement with compassion and community.

1. Self-awareness and Reflection: One of the first steps in striking a balance is understanding where you currently stand. Do you remember Alice from the Alice in Wonderland? She once asked the Cheshire Cat which way she should go, to which the Cat responded, “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”

Just like Alice, it’s essential for us to introspect our goals and evaluate their alignment with our personal values and societal well-being. I’ve found blogging (a form of journaling for me) to be an effective way of achieving this. So, grab a pen, jot down your ambitions, and let’s get to know them better!

2. Empathy and Compassion: It’s easy to get lost in our own world of ambitions, isn’t it? But let’s remember, we’re part of a larger community. It reminds me of a story I read about an overly ambitious executive. In her quest to scale the corporate ladder, she overlooked her colleagues’ concerns.

Over time, this created an environment of resentment and hostility. Realizing her mistake, she made a conscious effort to incorporate empathy into her ambitions, resulting in not just a healthier workplace but also a more fulfilling life.

3. Maintain Relationships: In the race to the top, it’s all too common to lose sight of the ones cheering us on. Let me tell you a story about John, a brilliant entrepreneur who once shared his regret of losing friends during his climb to success. The loneliness he felt at the top was a steep price to pay.

This realization prompted him to rebuild lost connections and prioritize nurturing relationships. Today, his success story is not just about a thriving business but also about the love and friendship that surround him.

4. Ethics First: Choosing the right path, even when no one’s watching, is often what differentiates the truly successful from the rest. A while back, I came across a story of a young sales executive who was faced with a choice – close a lucrative deal through dishonest means or uphold her integrity. She chose the latter. Though she initially faced backlash, her reputation for integrity eventually paid off in ways she’d never imagined.

5. Community Involvement: True ambition is not just about individual achievement, but also about lifting others along the way. A local business owner in my community, Sam, has a unique ambition. Alongside running a profitable cafe, he also aims to provide employment opportunities for underprivileged youth in our community. Witnessing the impact of his ‘ambitious goal’ is nothing short of inspiring.

By integrating these strategies, we can harness the power of ambition without falling prey to its potential pitfalls. After all, isn’t success sweeter when shared? Let’s strive for an ambition that uplifts us, our relationships, and our communities.

Tying it All Together: Striking the Perfect Balance

As we reach the end of our exploration into the heart of ambition, I encourage you to not just take my word for it. Discover the essence of balanced ambition for yourself.

As your next step, here’s a simple exercise that I’d like you to try. Take out a piece of paper, and draw a line down the middle. On one side, jot down your personal ambitions – the milestones you want to reach, the heights you aim to soar. On the other, write how these goals align with your relationships, your health, your community, and your spirituality.

As you examine this list, ask yourself: Is there a balance between the two sides? Does your ambition prioritize not just personal growth, but also the wellbeing of others and the larger community? Are there areas where you can add more balance?

And remember, the journey to balanced ambition is not about cutting wings off your aspirations. It’s about evolving our perspective of success and realizing that the most gratifying victories are those that don’t compromise our values or the welfare of others.

Ultimately, balanced ambition is not about reaching the top at any cost, but about ensuring that the journey to the top is as rewarding as the view from it. After all, isn’t it the journey that enriches us, teaches us, and defines us?

It’s time for us to redefine ambition – to transform it from a relentless pursuit of individual goals into a harmonious blend of personal success and collective upliftment. Here’s to embracing a balanced form of ambition – one that fuels our dreams and nurtures our world.

As you embark on this introspective journey, remember you’re not alone. Feel free to share your experiences, insights, or questions in the comments below. Together, we can navigate the path towards a more balanced, fulfilling form of ambition.

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David N Johnson

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David N Johnson

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