Ambition…It’s A Good Thing

It is undeniable that most successful people are ambitious. Those of us who dream of more need to be intrinsically motivated to reach for more – whatever that “more” is. It is THAT intrinsic motivation that propels us to try harder, work harder, and press on after experiencing setbacks.

Ambition is a great trait. It’s one of those things – along with humor, authenticity, and integrity – that I look for when aligning myself with people, both personally and professionally. It always strikes me as odd when people are offended by or frightened by this trait. People who are self-motivated are few and far between and they are highly-valuable. Some people have a spark and a drive to achieve but that doesn’t mean that their intentions are nefarious or purely self-serving. They are often compelled to produce results that set an incredibly high standard for performance and excellence. It is a shame that so many “executives” and “leaders” are so terrified when the trait of ambition presents in a candidate or a colleague, instead of embracing it – people either dismiss it or attempt to squash it or control it.

There are times when life is an exercise in both marketing and public relations for one’s self and you need to speak up and declare your ambitions. There is a frequent need to explain your character and sell yourself to new people – especially in the professional world. However, something I have learned in the last two years is that most people prefer you keep your ambitions to yourself. People and organizations {except for the truly fabulous ones] are easily panicked by ambition – even the kind that will benefit the organization.

Healthy ambition should be to build a long and successful career full of continuous learning, acquiring new skills, connections, and taking on more responsibility and being of genuine service to your colleagues.

Habits Of Ambitious People

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 or those around them.” – Neel Burton, psychiatrist and author of Heaven and Hell: The Psychology of the Emotions

On average, ambitious people attain higher levels of education and income, build more prestigious careers, and report higher overall levels of life satisfaction. Copious numbers of great achievements are the products [or accidents] of someone’s ambition. Judge and Kammeyer-Muller define ambition as, “The persistent and generalized striving for success, attainment, and accomplishment.”

  • They Are Risk Takers: Ambition takes a level of willingness to step into uncharted territory and be a rebel, at times – facing their fears and anxiety of the unknown. Ambitious people are generally more courageous, committed, and/or driven, and can minimize the fear in pursuit of their objectives. They act with purpose, while allowing themselves room to explore, experiment, make mistakes, and discover.
  • They Expose Themselves To New Ways Of Thinking: The world is rapidly evolving. The trait of ambition makes most people extremely resourceful. It is not uncommon for ambitious people to find themselves in something of a crisis and manage it well and to an appropriate and excellent solution. They do this by constantly speaking with and learning from others. Ambitious people seek out different points of view on a variety of topics, consistently.
  • They Understand The Power Of Proximity: As I mentioned earlier, I seek out ambition in people who I choose to align myself with in any setting. I love rebels and risk-takers…they energize and challenge me. There is an absolute power of proximity. When we surround ourselves with people that inspire and motivate us – by possessing our most valued traits – we learn and grow from these people.
  • They Are Hyper-Focused On Action & Execution: Ambitious people are exceedingly goal-focused and are constantly striving towards their next level of accomplishment. Healthy ambition involves keeping your goals private. The most ambitious recognize that their greatest competition is themselves. Most people spend the bulk of their time building their skills set and endlessly mentally weighing solutions & possible outcomes. While it’s wise to create a strategy for your important objectives and the outcomes you are working to achieve, ambitious people pour their energy into taking action and getting things done. After all, if their execution is poor, nothing matters.

Why Some People Are More Ambitious Than Others

A few of the underlying factors identified that result in ambition are: conscientiousness, extroversion, a low-level of neuroticism, general mental ability, birth order, and parents’ occupational cachet. Some additional circumstances that contribute to one’s ambitions:

  • Ego–Driven Ambition: When someone has a reason to prove themselves and they possess the intestinal fortitude to do it, they become extreme in their drive to accomplish objectives and set new priorities for the future in pursuit of their grandiose goals.
  • Our Desire To Communicate Our Worth: Often, the desire to prove to oneself that you are worthy can be a catalyst for ambition and striving be our best selves consistently.
  • Self-Confidence: When an individual is confident in their abilities and they believe that they can reach their goals and get the things they want, they are likely to be ambitions. It’s intoxicating to accomplish goals that others only dream of or that they poo-poo when they hear other’s speak about their vision.
  • Ambition From Insecurity: When someone identifies an insecurity in an area of their life, it can put that person under a lot pressure, which generally leads the masses of average people to opt out and state how unfair life is. Far fewer people are invigorated by overcoming their impediments to find success. THOSE are the people I love. They are hungry, inspiring and determined.


Founder and Editor in Chief of Excellence In Retail. Published writer. Frequent Podcast Guest. Speaker. Twenty year [oy vey!] retailer. I am passionate about leadership development and workplace culture. 646 246 1380 | [No Sales Contact, please} But it you want to call just to say hello or have a question - that's awesome!

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