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The article is developed in partnership with BetterHelp.

Quantifying Ambition

Quantifying ambition has been the aim of numerous studies, most of which developed a definition that sounded similar to this: a persistent desire to achieve or accomplish, for the purpose of recognition or gain. This is an ideal description of ambition, because it demonstrates quickly and easily that ambition can be two sides of the same coin (whether in work, relationships, or academics), and offer both benefits and drawbacks—read more here

The Positives of Ambition

Ambition has been identified as one of the most important footholds toward accomplishing goals and adhering to tasks that have been set forth. Ambition functions in a way similar to motivation, and can help fuel people to accomplish more in academics, at work, and even in relationships. The traits associated with ambition usually include being courageous, adaptable, organized, and dedicated. Courage is often associated with things like riding into battle, or making a huge leap regarding starting your own business, but courage can come in many different forms. Taking risks at work can be courageous, but so can making commitments. Ambitions can help solidify a sense of responsibility, and fuel courageous behavior. 

Ambition often requires people to be adaptable. Ambitious people very often must take in new information and process and proceed according to that new information quickly and effectively. Ambition may help people make quick, responsible decisions in order to further themselves, their careers, and their relationships. 

Organization is vital in order to keep your life in order, and people with ambition often highly prioritize their own organizational systems. Organization can mean having a highly ordered home or office space, or it can mean having your own unique organization system regarding goals, work tasks, and more, in order to achieve your goals. 

Dedication is another common trait found in highly ambitious people. These individuals are usually willing to delay gratification if that gratification means reaching additional goals they’ve set for themselves. Whether it is dedication to a certain diet or dedication to a highly structured routine, dedication is often a key feature of those with ambition. 

Ambition’s Drawbacks

The downsides of ambition are similarly strong, and include elitism, competitive behavior, and comparison behavior. When someone is highly ambitious, they may measure the worth and value of others according to their own behaviors and values, and look down on people who do not demonstrate behavior that aligns with having a high level of ambition. 

Highly ambitious people are also far more likely to feel a strong drive toward competitive behavior. While this can be helpful in sports and in the workplace, it can prove problematic in other situations, including relationships. Someone who is constantly competitive may seem to constantly be “one-upping” those around them, which can erode relationships and fracture social interactions. 

Comparison behavior is similarly problematic, because constantly comparing yourself to everyone around you can make it difficult to maintain relationships, enter new relationships, and maintain a consistent level of self-esteem. Comparison can be a useful means of measuring your own progress and abilities, but it can also lead to constant feelings of inadequacy. 

Ambition has also been linked to difficulty cooperating. Because ambition can create a sense of isolation and feeling as though you are required to accomplish all of your goals entirely on your own, ambition can lead people to behave in ways that are not conducive to developing a strong sense of teamwork or collective accomplishment. 

The Ups and Downs of Ambition

Ambition is often alternately sought after and shunned, depending on the personal ethos of the individual. For some, ambition is a necessary and empowering experience. For others, ambition causes rifts in relationships, and is not a high priority in their own life. Whichever camp you fall in, there are ups and downs associated with ambition. Learning these ups and downs can help you develop an approach to goal-setting and your own ambition.