Ambition stirs up negative impressions sometimes. Instantaneously we envision a cut throat young executive with a hanker for abusing and screwing as many people as possible to climb the corporate ladder. Ambition lies inside us all whether dormant or overly active. However, It shouldn’t be a dirty word. Being ambitious doesn’t mean you’re imbued with a thirst for power, need for adulation or meet the diagnostic criteria of a corporate psychopath.

Having ambition means you have goals for a better future be it personally or professionally. A lack of ambition makes us stay in jobs we hate, cling to bad relationships or neglect our physical and emotional well-being. It hinders progress and causes people to sleepwalk through life with no direction and absent intention or drive to find a map. Professionally a lack of ambition has sent many companies crashing to the bottom of the ocean. Unfortunately, they just never had the ambition to learn how to swim.

On the other hand, too much ambition can also be dangerous. Heart attacks in Silicon Valley are rarely the result of the daily yoga session going haywire. They normally accrue due to work overload, never ending self-imposed and external pressure, and good old stress. Thanks, ambition! But where does this leave us? Is chasing our dreams a good thing or should we just settle for where we are in life?!

Channelling Ambition

Whether an entrepreneur, employee or sweat induced corporate executive, we all need to properly channel our ambitions into a long-term approach to goal realisation. If the 80th birthday party is approaching, this blog isn’t going to be very empowering (sorry). A short-term mindset piles excess pressure on ourselves making us less likely to achieve our goals.

A toned body isn’t the result of a workout but many workouts over a sustained period of time. Likewise, a skill takes years to master (10,000 hours according to Malcolm Gladwell). Hard work is important but only if it can be maintained over a long period of time. Here the balance of working hard vs working smart enters the equation. Pushing too hard and being too ambitious can be detrimental. Normally, this is the result of seeking instant gratification via short-term results. Our ego needs fuel and accomplishments prove to be very palatable as an immediate self-esteem treat.

A mind needs solitude and time to process information. Running and rushing around erodes our precious thinking time. Stay behind that truck on the way to work. Spare your cognitive function for judging where you should apportion this week’s budget rather than whether you’ll make it before that bend. Imagine a machine that keeps spinning but never gets stopped for a service, upgrades or a break. The machine will eventually break.

I heard a phrase coined lately called ambition addiction. I admit it made me self-consciously tug on my collar a little bit. An ambition addict is someone who cannot stop chasing the next goal or accomplishment continuously stretching to achieve the utopian life. The only problem is superstardom isn’t destined for everyone. When we have it we still aren’t happy anyway. “Mo’ money, mo’ problems” the enlightened philosopher Biggie Smalls might say. Chris Cornell’s suicide stands a testament to that.

Healthy Ambition

Perfectionism is a term closely associated with ambition addiction. It too gets a bad rep. A perfectionist is never happy with the present moment. Everything can always be better. While closely related to success in the business field, it’s also the main reason why many don’t succeed. Wanting to create something perfect heaps pressure on yourself. This can steal the fun from the activity and makes procrastination quite desirable.

Aiming to tone your body within 12 weeks is an achievable and empowering goal. But seeking a 6 pack in this period without radically altering your diet and training is setting yourself up for disappointment. You’ll hate the gym as you only go there for unattainable results given your lifestyle. I love the gym and go there 4-5 days a week but I’ve no grandiose dreams of achieving a Herculean physique. I just want to get stronger every day and maintain a toned, fit and healthy body.

Yes, I’m a little addicted to the feeling of accomplishment weightlifting gives me. There is nothing like crushing a PB. But that’s healthy. I don’t do diets or abstain from alcohol, I just take everything in moderation. I’ll never skip a weekend because I’m trying to get a 6 pack. I just want to have fun and do what I love. If that’s a beer and a pizza post-Saturday workouts then so be it.

People should learn to love the gym. Enjoy the freedom it gives you to eat and drink more liberally without guilt or worry about weight gain. Put in the hours and you deserve the reward. But don’t kid yourself and put it half baked gym sessions and feel you deserve a pizza. That isn’t healthy ambition, that’s just being lazy.

Professional Ambition

Imagine wanting to be a brilliant Marketer, Graphic Designer, Web Developer, Photographer, and Writer. Achieving all these dreams simultaneously isn’t possible, is it? Yet it’s something I wrestle with daily. I’m passionate about all of these subjects and know they are key to my future professional career. But mastery isn’t possible for me in all these areas. Instead, I take the approach that Marketing is my main field but all of these skills need to be slowly honed for a great Marketing career. A long-term perspective keeps me on the right path absent excess stress and pressure.

Self-awareness I believe is the key to stopping ourselves falling into the perils of chasing unattainable professional goals. I know mastering all these skills isn’t attainable but I can and will strive to be “good” at all of them. Notice good, not great! I’ve noticed my own talents seem to stem from believing I never seem to know enough so I’m always studying, learning, and questioning. In Business, this makes it easier to solve problems as I’ve already researched the company’s problems, the competition’s activities, and industry trends.

But let’s escape self-indulgence and talking about what I’m good at. As people, how can we harness ambition and use it to achieve our potential, make an impact on the world and live a fulfilling life absent wants or needs? Without yielding to stress or workaholism of course.

The Cure

There is no cure and I certainly have no answer for you. But this blog wasn’t my own personal therapy session. I wanted this blog to stir people’s thoughts on their ambitions. The answer is different for everyone anyway. For me, I can’t operate without some degree of stress or urgency and I enjoy work. So avoiding these things would strangely only serve to dampen my spirit levels.

We’re all different. Handling stress lies in enjoying and caring about what we do. Controlling only what we can control - our own emotions. Absent seeking short-term reward.  Humans were put on this earth to achieve and accomplish. Running from ambition isn’t the answer but embracing it is. Don’t let short-term results consume or define you. Play the long game. Embrace patience and ambition as your friend.