10 Signs Your Own Ambition Is Working Against You

mbg Contributor By Benjamin Shalva
mbg Contributor
Benjamin Shalva is a rabbi, writer, meditation teacher, and yoga instructor. He is the author of Ambition Addiction and Spiritual Cross-Training, and leads spiritual seminars and workshops around the world.

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Each of us has ambition. Ambition may entail a healthy balance of hunger and humility, perseverance and perspective. For some of us, however, ambition may have soured. We may be, at this very moment, reaching for our dreams at the expense of our own and others' health, happiness, and well-being.

How do we differentiate between helpful and harmful ambition? How can we detect ambition addiction? As an ambition addict myself, as one who continues to struggle with this affliction, I have identified 10 signs and symptoms of ambition addiction:

1. Grandiose dreams of all-encompassing glory

Ambition addicts harbor detailed fantasies of the wondrous, happy endings toward which we strive. In these imagined happy endings, we picture ourselves enjoying life free from heartache and fear.

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2. Contempt for the present and reverence for the future

Present reality can never measure up to the fantastical future depicted in our dreams. We ambition addicts view the present moment as a waiting room to endure. We're frequently looking down the pike, fixing our eyes on what's to come.

3. Single-minded focus on goals and objectives

Ambition addicts are primarily interested in the outcome of an activity or in the impact of a relationship rather than in the activity or relationship itself

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4. Manic pace

In a choice between easy-does-it or fast-and-furious, ambition addicts will always choose fast-and-furious. We're forever in a rush, impatient with others, and always very, very busy.

5. Anxiety and panic

Ambition addicts yearn to free ourselves from insecurity and vulnerability. When life presents us with loose ends, confusion, frailties, and fallibility, we ambition addicts become neurotic and panicked.

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6. Severity and depression

Ambition addicts tackle each day with seriousness and severity. While the occasional victory may elevate our mood, we all too soon descend, when the high wears off, into doom and gloom.

7. Entitlement and jealousy

We ambition addicts boldly assert our agendas and expect others to kowtow. When competitors rise high, we're often consumed by jealousy, viewing our own lives with contempt and disparaging whatever gains we've previously made.

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8. Distaste for stasis and equilibrium

Ambition addicts hunger for forward movement and momentum. We avoid people, places, and situations that appear too staid and sedate.

9. Difficulty relaxing and enjoying simple pleasures

We ambition addicts have a hard time relaxing. Unscheduled time fills us with dread. We find it challenging to enjoy simple pleasures. If we must unwind, we prefer to do so through competitive activities or quantifiable hobbies.

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10. Categorical and calculating opinions of others.

To actualize our dreams, we ambition addicts ascertain who, among our family, friends, community members, and colleagues, can help us achieve our goals. We prioritize interactions with these individuals over interactions with those we deem peripheral to our progress.

After reading this list, we may have the uncanny sensation that our inner existence has been laid bare. Like it or not, ambition addiction fits.

If we continue with business as usual, we risk inflicting damage on others and ourselves. Ambition addiction can bruise our bodies; the perpetual stress, the invariable fight-or-flight, thickens our arteries, frays our nerves, and dramatically increases our risk of a heart attack or stroke. Ambition addiction can also strain our most cherished relationships. The more savage our drive to succeed, the more willingly we will abandon those who dare disturb our dreams.

As with any addiction, however, recovery is possible.

Step 1: Slow down.

Identify opportunities throughout your day to decelerate. Take a few deep breaths in between emails, calls, and appointments. With a more measured tempo, we can still tackle our to-do lists. We just do so with room to breathe.

Step 2: Enjoy.

Dive into simple pleasures. Treat yourself to an ice-cream cone. Take a stroll outside. Allow your mind to relax and your body to unwind. This rejuvenates and renews and may even improve your productivity when you return to more ambitious endeavors.

Step 3: Give thanks.

Spend time reflecting each day on the gifts you currently enjoy. If you feel comfortable doing so, offer a small prayer of thanks. Articulating gratitude reminds us that, in the midst of struggle and striving, we already enjoy a wealth of blessings.

Step 4: Donate time.

Identify individuals who would appreciate your love and attention and donate time to these individuals. Prove to your family, friends, and to yourself that these relationships matter.

Step 5: Dream anew.

We ambition addicts dream all-or-nothing dreams. Consider your personal and professional goals and, perhaps ever so slightly, scale them down. Create goals that enable you to progress and achieve without requiring a sacrifice of body, heart, and soul.

With great aspiration comes great responsibility. If we allow the fire of ambition to blaze beyond control, we risk hurting others. We risk harming ourselves. By learning to slow down, enjoy, give thanks, donate time, and dream anew, we make space for breath and balance, patience and perspective. We continue to reach for the stars, but we do so with solid ground beneath our feet.

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