Ask the Readers: Do You Think It’s Wrong To Be Ambitious?


There is often negative connotation with the word “ambition.” It’s a sad truth of our society that ambition is automatically associated with greed, or money and power without soul.

Ambition is…

A strong desire to do or achieve something

Why would anyone consider that a bad thing? Why are we not encouraging every single person, every child in school, to be ambitious? Just imagine the sheer energy of motivated people, if every one of us had a strong desire to achieve something.

Do we all have to achieve the same thing? Do we all need to aim for millions of dollars, Hollywood fame, or a noble prize? Of course not. Ambitions are just another aspect of our dreams. Even the experts I interviewed had different takes on ambition.

Do you ever admit you are ambitious?

Are you ashamed of it, or do you simply hide it to avoid conflict?

How do you react when other people say they are ambitious?



Leave a comment and let me know what your views are about ambition. If you don’t like public comments, you can always send me an email – dolly [at] kaizenjournaling [com]

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20 thoughts on “Ask the Readers: Do You Think It’s Wrong To Be Ambitious?

  1. Hi Dolly!

    I don’t know if it’s a British thing, not to make a big deal of our ambitions. As a nation, we take great glee in watching someone push themselves too far and fail ;) It could also be equated to “not showing off” – showing off is something loud, obnoxious people do – so un-British!

    I’m ambitious for my work, I want my books to do well, but when someone says “what do you want from it?” I tend to mumble something about making enough money to live on but not to get recognised in supermarkets. What I actually want is a mansion with a helipad and the moon on a stick. But I only admit that to myself (and now your blog readers ;) ) I think its a fear both of over-reaching and of being thought greedy.



  2. Hi Dolly,

    What a fascinating topic! Particularly as a Brit living in the US. I think the perception of having ambitions and being openly ambitious is vastly different on either sides of the pond.

    I think as a rule the majority of individuals do have ambitions whether they be as simple as finding a job they enjoy or having a happy home life; to the larger ones like becoming a top-selling author, having your own private jet and a mansion with a view. I don’t think the breadth or existence of ambitions varies regardless of where you are.

    I don’t believe that there is any correlation between an openness with sharing your ambitions and successfully acheiving them. Americans are no more or less likely to acheive their ambitions than British are for example. I think that the British generally do everything with far more modesty, but that doesn’t mean that they lack ambitions or that they will be less likely to acheive them- they just won’t offend anyone in the process!

    For me there is a big difference between having ambitions and being of an ambitious nature. If someone were to describe themselves as ambitious I would immediately be concerned that in addition to being driven, they would also lack sympathy for others. I think this perception might be what stops us from sharing our ambitions with others as a nation. We don’t want to be perceived as self-centered, ruthless or cocky.

    If one were to say they had ambitions however, I would feel differently. Having ambitions is natural. If their ambitions had a positive impact on others I would support them even more. For example, I have a friend from Uganda who’s life ambition is to go back to Uganda and open up a laundrette so that the women in the village don’t spend all day hand washing clothes. Because this is a selfless ambition I think it’s far easier to get behind and support.

    It’s not to say that one ambition is better than another, hey- it’s the individuals perogative!

    Laura :-)

  3. Hi Dolly! This is a great topic. I agree that the word ambition does carry a lot of negative connotations, and I wonder that part of it has to do with the tendency to conform and our collective discomfort with uncertainty.

    Many people have a far-off dream of something, but they want to walk those well-traveled paths because its been done, proven to work, and that is much easier than carving out a path for yourself to realize those dreams.

    I think that the idea of being ambitious usually flies in the face of what “everyone else” is doing precisely because truly ambitious people are out there actively implementing toward that dream and that requires doing something more. If everyone could just follow the motions and BAM! – fame and fortune – there’d be no need to aspire to it (though certainly those restless ambitious would find a bigger better dream in this case too). But it’s a scary thing for most people to consider. You don’t know what you are going to get and I think the discouragement of ambition is unfortunate but well-intentioned by those too fearful to encourage you to possible failure. They see mediocrity as a safe bet. Leave the dreams behind so you don’t get hurt (this just also means that you won’t achieve that greatness you quietly imagine).

    I am a terribly ambitious person. I want to tear down whole industries and re-invent them, which they certainly are not teaching me in my University courses!
    It is difficult for ambitious people to share with others because they want you to do sensible things. Sure, we all idolize the great innovators and revolutionaries, but not until after their methods work, not until they are sitting on a pile of success can we back them up and say, look how great they are (but circumstance a,b,c, put them there and it’s not possible for the rest of us). So it becomes a lonely path. It would seem only natural to me that ambitious people might become solitary people, because they are so used to being told no that they put up the armor and drive single-mindedly into seeing that dream realized, and then that the response from the sensible people is to characterize that ambition as a negative. So anyone riding that fence is likely to quietly dream about their wild ambitions simply to avoid that discouragement until they find something that tips their confidence/courage over the edge and they go for it.

    I also think though, that once you abandon your values and fall prey to greed, etc, that those sensible around you are right to discourage your ambitions, or at least the manner in which you intend to achieve them. Success at the expense of others is not success and ambition pouring into this channel is ultimately destructive. Ambition is a beautiful powerful thing, but you cannot lose sight of our shared humanity in the pursuit of personal success (whatever that may be for you).

  4. I love being Ambitious! I think it is a very smart to have a direction and focus and then the desire to tackle it! Ambition!

    I don’t view it at all as a negative thing as long as you are not harming others while you are moving forward.

  5. It is interesting, because I never considered it from a cultural perspective. Though now that you say it, it sounds obvious. You are right, and I have noticed a lot of that in UK. Most certainly among the “older” generation – or at least older in thought, not necessarily by age – in corporate environment.

    I’ve always disagreed with what people think greedy. After all, you are not trying to steal it from someone else, or earn it at the expense of others. If you do want a mansion pounds and a helipad, you are hoping to EARN that from your books, with your hard work.

  6. Laura,

    I think the distinction might help people feel easier, but from my point-of-view and general no-nonsense approach (:P), having ambitions and being ambitious is the same thing.

    You have money therefore you are rich
    You have a degree therefore you are educated
    You have ambitions therefore you are ambitious

    But I can totally see how it would change the perception. Saying “I have ambitions” does sound a lot softer than “I am ambitious” but then if we stopped looking at individual progress as a bad thing as a society then “I am ambitious” wouldn’t sound harsh either.

  7. Kait,

    Where are people like you in my life when I so wish them to be around? :-) It is so refreshing to meet people who admit their ambitions.

    I think you are right. It is because it flies in the face of convention, and of course most people don’t like that. Most people are quite scared to challenge the status quo. They would rather pretend to be modest and humble, instead of acknowledging strengths that empower them.

    Ambition – just the word itself is so empowering, makes you feel as if you are taking control of your life. So I say…let us go forth, and be ambitious! :-)

  8. Lori,

    Direction, Focus and Desire – what an arsenal of success they would make!! Without Ambition, we wouldn’t have drive to use any of those three, so ambition often acts like the catalyst.

  9. Great question, Dolly. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being ambitious. Here in the States I think people are more put off with the word “driven.” It makes it sound like the person will drive over anything and anyone who gets in her way! But I think a person who is ambitious is generally well-received.

  10. Bobbi,

    That’s interesting. Driven is another one of those words that I associate with positive, focus – rather than over other people.

  11. I was raised to be ambitious and to be proud of it. If you weren’t then you were lazy. As a result of it, I mostly surround myself around people who are also ambitious. This doesn’t mean that we are all wanting to accomplish the same things but we are ambitious or passionate about something. With me, it is my writing/journals. My soulmate is passionate his work mainly remodeling houses and singing.
    I am happy I was raised this way.

  12. I agree with much of what’s been said already, of course. I think what it comes down to is, people who are not ambitious are threatened by those who are. People who are ambitious get things done, which means they get what they want (or closer to it, in any case)…and people who prefer/choose not to put in the effort are generally jealous of what the ambitious achieve.

    Ambitious people tend to make what they do look easy too – and it’s not because it *is* easy, but rather because we are very focused and purpose-driven. So it *looks* easy to anyone not in the middle of it, and again, non-driven people tend to feel like what they want should come easily, because of how easy we make it look.

    Ironically, ambitious people who have reached their goals tend to have run into so many people who *say* they want to accomplish things and then never do that they get jaded – and they often brush off ambitious people who are just starting out on their journey. And of course non-ambitious people generally have tried to do things, failed, and so they assume everyone else will fail, so they don’t support those reaching for something more any better than the former group.

    So between ambitious people who have seen too many give up, non-ambitious people who have failed too many times, and non-ambitious people who are jealous of others’ accomplishments…it’s pretty easy to understand why driven people are often alone in their quests, and also why they tend to stay quiet about their goals until one is reached.

    It’s never wrong to be ambitious, IMO. But it is often a lonely road – which is partially why so many people choose to be content with less than what they really want.

  13. I’m not ashamed of being ambitious – and in fact I get frustrated sometimes with the lack of ambition in those close to me. That said, sometimes I might downplay my ambition, or leave it out of the conversation when around certain people whom I feel might be judgmental.

    I think there is this idea that ambition isn’t spiritual, it doesn’t fit in with the whole notion of ‘going with the flow.’ But I think one can still be ambitious while appreciating the present moment and remaining open to guidance. It’s all comes back to balance I guess.

  14. That’s excellent. It makes so much difference if one starts from childhood. I think you made very good point about surrounding yourself with people who are ambitious. More often than not, that’s the difficult it. By the time we figure out how we want to develop, we are surrounded by people who are not perhaps the right kind of support group.

  15. Jamie,

    You’ve nailed it on all counts, especially about people choosing to be content with less than what they really want. I think so much of it is because of fear – fear of being different, fear of failure, fear of admitting that what you’ve got so far is not good enough. People who become successful, go past the fear, and do the things they want. But most, just stay where they are.

  16. Sarah,

    Yes, quite a few people do the “downplay” because it does save some of the judgement. I unfortunately have a tendency to say precisely what I think, so not always possible :P Gets me into hot water sometimes!

    The notion that ambition isn’t this or that is again because our society as a whole like to play things safe, and keep us all firmly in the middle average. Otherwise how could one person claim what another person’s spirituality is or isn’t?

  17. I can totally agree with Sarah’s comment…While I’m not ashamed to own my ambition, there is often this opposing view that ambition isn’t spiritual. She’s right – there IS a way to be ambitious while remaining present. It’s a balancing act for sure, but it can be done! Interesting questions you posed..I loved reading everyone’s answers.

  18. Kaylee,

    Glad you enjoyed the answers. I have found it interesting how people associate ambition with different things, including spirituality. And you are right…you can align it with other values. Ambition is simply what you want to achieve. It is not different from other things in your life.

  19. Hello over there, greetings from Juba—South Sudan.. I click your browser by error when I was browsing something off topic. Let me share with the team something about my former boss…..Today I met one of my great former supervisors; he was joining post to work with me in the same department…This is the first thing he said….! Young man, you look so ambitious! I told him, do you think it is wrong to be ambitious? I love being Ambitious! I think it is very cool to have a direction and focus. I was raised to be ambitious and to be proud of it, which is one of the reason why I mostly surround myself around people who are also so ambitious like you.
    I simply want to give huge thumbs up for the good information you could have here on this post. Dolly keep it rolling I love it.

  20. Richie,

    Thank you so much for your visit and for taking the time to comment. I agree…it’s a good thing to have focus and ambition, to have desire to channel one’s energy in a particular direction.

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