Ambition a good or bad thing

Is Ambition a Good or Bad Thing?

by Shawn Albright

I frequently wonder “Is ambition a good or bad thing?” I’ve realized that ambition alone can be damaging, but paired with another characteristic, it can change the world.

For simplicity, I believe ambition is about achieving or obtaining something. Good or bad, it is something you can check off your list.  It can be greedy and self-serving, or it can be benevolent with others in mind.  Your ambition may be to be a bank robber and “make” millions of dollars, or to become a doctor and save lives.  Either way, it’s something that can be achieved.

But there are 2 obvious problems with living a life based on ambition alone.  You either achieve it and likely still feel unfulfilled because there is always something bigger, better, faster.  Or you don’t achieve it and you keep going until you either give up or wreck your life trying.

An example of the first scenario is professional sports.  Within minutes of winning the big game, when an athlete is asked “What’s next?” the answer is usually, “Just enjoy this for now and get ready to do it again next year.”


Because winning the big game was their ambition.  It wasn’t a bad goal.  But the fulfillment it provided was temporary.  So imagine a life that is just a string of seemingly unconnected ambitions?  It may be a story with great highlights, but it also may leave that person with many regrets.  Not that they regret the ambition, but that they never found how to make that ambition a part of their story, not the story itself.

“So, what makes ambition a good thing? When it is paired with passion.”

Making a baby may be an ambition, but becoming a father is when you add passion to raising and teaching the child.  Becoming a nurse is an ambition, but waking up thinking of healing/comforting the patient, that is passion.

“This is the true joy of life, the being used up for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clot of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”  – George Bernard Shaw

Ambition is a goal; passion is the fuel necessary to use that goal as a building block towards something that you can commit your life to.  It’s not something you obtain, but something you pursue knowing that attainment is not the goal or even possible.

I believe we all have something in common in life; we all want our life to matter.  We want to contribute to something greater than ourselves.  We want to leave a legacy.  But I think you would be hard pressed to find someone that you consider great that only pursued ambition.  Dig deeper and you will find they had a greater passion and that ambition was only a piece of their greater story.

The common question is “What’s your life’s ambition?”  But I think it should be “What’s your life’s passion?”  If you are fortunate to already know your life’s ambition, go a step farther and figure out how it ties into the greater good of those around you.  If you don’t know what your ambition or passion is, you’re not alone.

In fact, that’s where most of us are in our 30’s.  I don’t envy those with more money or stuff; I envy those that have figured out a great cause to devote their life to.

I’m in hot pursuit (and close I think) of finding both, but some days I’m just as lost as I was 10 years ago.  But I refuse to give up.  I wake up every day thinking about it.  There is still hope!

I used to get discouraged when I would hear about someone much younger than me already pursuing their ambition and passion.  I guess I thought they should have to pay their dues.  But honestly, I was jealous.

I would think “Must be nice to not have any real responsibility in life other than for yourself.  If I didn’t have a family, car payment, mortgage, blah blah blah, then I would…?  But I could never actually finish the sentence.  It had nothing to do with my level of responsibility.  It had to do with me not being brave enough to step out and say what I wanted.

I was angry because they made a stand…they wanted their dream more than they wanted their comfort.  I couldn’t say that so it made me feel like a wuss.

What nerve would I have to have to say I was a writer.  Not that I liked writing, but that I was a writer?  What arrogance right? Especially considering that I had not actually written anything.

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