10 Signs You Are Too Ambitious & Why It Might Work Against You
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? Here, 10 signs and symptoms of being too ambitious:
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.
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. This can mean people who are too ambitious are never really satisfied with their successes, no matter how great or deserved.
3. Single-minded focus on goals.
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.
4. Manic pace.
In a choice between easy-does-it or fast-and-furious, those with lots of ambition 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 anxiety-ridden and panicked. If this sounds like you, here's how others have found to deal with their anxiety.
6. Severity and depression.
Those with too much ambition seem to 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. This leaves little room for celebrating our successes and makes us have difficulty living in the moment.
7. Entitlement and jealousy.
Ambition addicts boldly assert their 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.
8. Distaste for stasis and equilibrium.
A negative side effect of ambition 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.
Those with too much ambition 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.
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.
What to do when your ambition is working against you:
For ambition addicts, if we continue with business as usual, we risk inflicting damage on others and ourselves: Too much ambition can cause too much stress and strain our most cherished relationships. Here's how to cope with your ambition issues and negate the negative side effects of ambition:
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 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.
The bottom line:
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.
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. He is a member of the Jewish Book Council, and received his rabbinical ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City and his yoga-teacher certification from the Yogic Physical Culture Academy in Los Cabos, Mexico. Shalva serves on the faculty at the Jewish Mindfulness Center of Washington and the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in Washington, DC, and leads musical prayer services for Adas Israel Congregation and Bet Mishpachah in Washington, DC. A native of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Shalva lives in Reston, Virginia, with his wife and children.