Too Much Ambition

Aim High

Is Too Much Ambition a Bad Thing?

Well of course it is, right?  Surely too much of anything can be bad, and it certainly seems obvious that too much ambition can lead to being a workaholic, having no social life, not making time for one’s family, and other such unpleasant things.  However, if you look at successful entrepreneurs, it would seem that many of them have had their ambition and their work negatively affect aspects of their lives such as the ones I’ve mentioned.

Its not that simple, unfortunately.  You can’t simply say “oh, well clearly I just need to have less ambition.”  Insane amounts of drive and ambition is half of what makes a lot of successful entrepreneurs able to accomplish the things they do, besides having to have a number of other qualities.  The trick is, of course, to find a balance.  This may seem obvious but it is far easier said than done.. I know from personal experience.  I have never had any lack of ambition.  I blame (or thank, depending on the day) my dad for this fact.  Indeed, my bursting desire to ‘do great things always’ has been quite the double edged sword at times.  I want to do everything, and I want to be expert at everything I do.  This isn’t really a conscious decision, its just the way I’ve always been.. I manage to do a pretty decent job at this goal, but it also causes me to bite off more than I can chew all too often.  I’ve become aware of this tendency in myself all the more as I’ve gotten the chance to interact with other high-achieving individuals, and I notice in them a set of common traits which I believe are symptomatic of letting your ambition get the best of you:

  • Take on large projects and then after a short time (weeks or a couple months, tops) move on to the next thing and the original project is left to the wayside
  • Being extremely difficult to get a hold of
  • Being too busy for friends and family
  • Regularly falling behind on deadlines and having to pull all-nighters to play catch up

I don’t know about you, but I find people who exhibit one or more of these traits to be extremely frustrating!  The interesting thing is though, that a lot of high-achieving people can do a pretty good job of hiding these things when they work at it.  I say this because I know that for myself, at times when I’ve felt like I’m falling behind and things are getting a bit out of control, most people around me have no clue — they still think I’m producing outstanding work.  I’ve also noticed this in other high-achievers.. one of those “takes one to know one” things.

Regardless of how others perceive me, I still care a lot about my own sanity and stress level!  So how can I still do great things while maintaining a satisfying and low-stress lifestyle?  I don’t need to necessarily cut back on being so ambitious, but its more of a deliberate efficiency thing.  First, I accept that there are a limited number of hours in the day, and try to constantly be on the lookout for my tendency to take on more than I can chew.  Second of all, I prioritize which commitments are truly important, and what level of “success” in each endeavor is acceptable.  This one is especially hard for me, since I feel that I have to do an unbelievably awesome job on everything I do, but frankly, some things just aren’t that important, even if they’re still necessary obligations on some level.  Thirdly, I try to take advantage of certain life-hacking techniques, like GTD and ideas related to it, to be as efficient as possible in my personal task management.  And finally, I make sure that I spend time each week on non-work things that really matter too, like family and playing.  Building a car certainly is a good stress relief.

I feel like this is one of those “well, duh” sort of things.  Its so obvious, and yet it seems that relatively few people manage to be both extremely successful and extremely happy.  Of course, there is plenty of research to show that money has little bearing on happiness, with the exception of extreme poverty perhaps.  Take someone who’s just won the lottery, and someone who just had their arm amputated for medical reasons, and see who is happier six months down the road.  Statistics show that the amputee is far more likely to be “happy” than the lottery winner.. The prevalent theory on why this happens?  Ownership.  A sense of ownership over your current situation is very key to happiness, so I guarantee you that no matter how successful you are, if you feel out of control all the time you probably won’t be leading a very fulfilling life.

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  1. Posted August 27, 2011 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

    its practically true; simple life more important’

  2. Posted July 15, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    Too much ambition has lead me to ruin my career due to stress, I hope it does not happen to any other achiever.

  3. Bob Tucker
    Posted March 17, 2013 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    I have always been a high achiever with unmatched ambition. Sadly this has led me to a lonely place, also not a profitable one. Knowing my whole life I can have or do anything is like a battery with too much of a charge. Over all it has left me paralyzed. I am happy to help others make major life changes. The thing is, the changes are instant and they run from me screaming. One person I helped with his money. He had almost none. Shortly after he made $15,000 in 90 days. He went screaming to his mother, locked himself in his room and didn’t come out for years. Today I am working with a life coach to help me be happy and achieve. I have a personal trainer at the gym to help me slow down as I get sick from working out. I guess we will see how this goes.

One Trackback

  1. By On Finishing on July 5, 2011 at 9:18 pm

    [...] be terrible at actually completing most of what they set out to do. I am highly guilty of this. In this post I considered whether its possible to have too much ambition, and ultimately conclude that unchecked [...]

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