Humans by nature possess the will to grow relentlessly. This is where ambition enters. Ambition on one side can be the greatest catalyst that drives an individual to do great things in life. On the other hand, it can also lead to the inevitable breakdown of an individual who seeks the impossible and puts too much pressure on himself/herself. But without ambition, the progress of an individual will be halted. However, can the same be said for overambition?
Does it put stress?
In the book If You're So Smart, Why Aren't You Happy?, Raj Raghunathan, PhD, professor of marketing at the University of Texas McCombs School of Business in Austin, stated seven happiness traps (or 'sins') that highly ambitious, smart, and successful people fall into. According to Professor Raj, the second trap is the pursuit of superiority. Then, the professor asserts, what often happens is that the greater the need for superiority is, the lower the level of happiness.
"This means that regardless of how wealthy, famous, powerful, or attractive you are compared with others, the more you strive for superiority, the less happy you will be," reasoned the professor in the book.
Mahin Abrar Rahman, a final year student at IBA DU, when asked if overambition creates stress, said, "Yes, being overambitious creates stress, more so when you fail to reach that ambition." Mahin went on to say that he does not know the proper way to find the balance between ambition and overambition but feels that flexibility has been his way of dealing with the fear of failure.
"I have very flexible ambitions. For instance, I would love to work at a multinational company (MNC), but I will also be really satisfied if I work at a good local company. So, when I have at least some level of flexibility with my ambitions, I have lesser chances of feeling that I have failed."
Effects on mental health?
In a study published in 2014 on Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice-- a peer-reviewed journal, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley evaluated feelings of self-worth as well as the motivation to pursue power in more than 600 young men and women.
They found a link between those feelings and motivations and illnesses, including depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and narcissistic personality disorder. Sheri Johnson, PhD, a professor of psychology at UC Berkeley and a senior author of the study, wrote "People prone to depression or anxiety reported feeling little sense of pride in their accomplishments and little sense of power."
Is it wrong to be overambitious?
If we look at the world's elite, towards people like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Jack Ma etc. one thing cannot be missed - all of them had the vision to change the world embedded with absolute devotion to their craft. They had big dreams and they went on to put in the work necessary to achieve those. In a very similar manner, Muhammed Asif Khan, the co-founder and CEO of Alpha Catering, finds nothing wrong with ambitions.
"I think it is absolutely fine to have ambitions in life. But firstly, one has to have self-awareness regarding ambition. Exactly why does anyone have a big ambition? Is it because s/he genuinely likes the grind that comes with, wants to be wealthy, successful, influential, etc.? Or is it because s/he wants to prove something to others, like his parents, friends, etc.?"
"If it's the former, then it makes sense. But if it's all about getting validated by the people around him, then that ambition can be toxic because if someone doesn't more or less enjoy the grind, s/he is in for a very unsatisfactory life. I'm not saying one has to enjoy his work 24/7. Even Ronaldo doesn't like kicking a ball all the time. But on a general level, the person has to enjoy the pressure of getting to the top," explains the young ambitious CEO.
However, Asif also adds that it is absolutely fine for someone to choose a more relaxed life. One may choose a comfortable 9 to 5 job, not too high paying, but not cutthroat. This person may instead enjoy spending time with family and friends, chilling out, going for vacations etc.
Having huge ambitions in life is not a necessity, certainly not mandatory. It is all about what gives someone purpose and joy.
The writer is a student at the University of Dhaka.
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