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Can Ambition Be Counterproductive? It can turn you into a person who forgets to care about other people and even yourself

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In many ways, ambition is glorified in our culture. We're told that we should be reaching great heights, living up to our full potential and constantly working on our next venture. People with ambition are go-getters, and they are the ones who succeed.

However, as Neel Burton wrote in Psychology Today, "Ambition is sometimes thought of as a form of greed, or the acceptable face of greed, which can be defined as the excessive desire for more than is needed or deserved, not for the greater good but for one's own selfish interest."

Ambition can turn you into a person who forgets to care about other people and even themselves. So, is it really productive?

To-do or Not To-do Lists

We're obsessed with to-do lists and the feeling of satisfaction when we tick things off. But does list making actually help, or is it just stressing you out? In many cases, list-making works against productivity. We set unrealistic amounts, forget to schedule breaks, and get frustrated with the fact we never seem to reach the end. Perhaps we shouldn't rely on lists as much as we do.

The Pressure of Unachievable Goals

Goals are great to have. They give you something to work towards and allow you to foster personal development. But unachievable goals? Not so great. Don't let self-doubt get in the way of dreaming big, but make sure you're not putting too much pressure on yourself, as you could end up feeling worse if you don't achieve what you set out to.

Getting into Unhealthy Cycles

Being overly ambitious can lead you to get into unhealthy cycles of behaviour. When you become addicted to ambition and the idea of success, the future is the only important thing and the present becomes irrelevant. You are always trying to improve, to do more and be more, without actually enjoying the present moment.

System Overload

"I'd love to read more or learn a language… If only I had the time!"

How many times have you heard someone say that? Ambition is linked to overworking and the tendency to overload ourselves with work-related stress. We lose our perspective on what matters and start to neglect hobbies or activities that nourish our emotional wellbeing and personal development outside of work.

Forgetting to Celebrate the Small Wins

If you are constantly chasing great heights and big successes, you don't take time to acknowledge small wins or little moments of happiness. Take the time to celebrate how far you've come and the progress you have made.

Forget Being Humble

There's a fine line between confidence and arrogance. Ambition can come across as desperation, greed and self-importance, which are not attractive traits, and can definitely be counterproductive in achieving your goals. However, at the same time, know your worth and don't let the fear of sounding arrogant allow you to downplay your achievements.

Nothing is Ever Enough

If you let ambition take over your life, you will never be satisfied. You're always looking to the next thing: "I'll be happy when I get that promotion", or "I'll be happy when I get that pay rise", or "I'll be happy when I can afford to buy a house". This constant focus on future happiness means that you can't appreciate what you already have.

This isn't to say that ambition is a wholly bad thing. Realizing personal potential, self-fulfilment and seeking personal growth are all part of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, which outlines basic human needs and motivations.

It's when the process of striving to do more, earn more and be more takes over simply being that ambition becomes a barrier to our happiness, rather than enabling it.

Francesca Langton Kendall

Workplace wellbeing consultant, Making Moves


Francesca is the workplace wellbeing consultant at Making Moves, a commercial property startup based in Shoreditch. She is currently studying towards an MSc in Workplace Health and Wellbeing and consults clients on how they can improve their workplaces. This includes the physical office environment, promoting healthy habits, improving the wellbeing of staff, and creating a positive, inclusive culture.

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