Is Ambition Bad?

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
Is Ambition Bad?

I am on a conflicted journey with ambition.

There’s a part of me that likes being ambitious.  I mean really ambitious.  I want to be the best at everything.  Work.  Home.  Relationships.  Writing.  Even play.  There is a standard of excellence that inspires me, pushes me, and engages me.  That’s a good thing.  Isn’t it?

Maybe not.

Sometimes I worry that being ambitious isn’t all that spiritual.  So I look around me.  Some of the most ambitious people I know don’t claim to follow Jesus.  Some of them even think that Christians are misguided and uneducated.  I like being educated.  At least I like it when people think I’m educated.  So I worry some more.  What am I supposed to do about this ambitious spirit of mine? 

I’m not the only one who is on a conflicted journey.

We’re arguably the most driven society in all of history.  It’s all about the next degree, the newest technology, the next discovery.  We’re pushing our kids to learn more, work hard, to excel in everything they do.  “Just do your best,” I constantly tell my kids.  But you can’t always be the best at everything.  Maybe ambition is running us ragged.  Which is why in some circles, it’s no longer cool to be ambitious. 

The anti-ambition crowd is everywhere.  In the church, I run into people who look down on those of us who are ambitious in our chosen professions.  The thought process goes something like this.  While it’s ok to be ambitious about spiritual matters, you have to compromise your faith to be a top-notch executive, artist, or professional.  If you’re getting ahead in this life, don’t expect to get ahead in the life to come. 

Even Hollywood is on the anti-ambition bandwagon.  Corporate America and big business are often portrayed as evil.  Movies like "Money Never Sleeps"  tell us that ambition and greed go hand and hand.  How much is enough?  There’s no limit.  Ambitious people always want more.  And more.  They even step on their own flesh and blood to get ahead. 

The anti-ambition movement has a point, doesn’t it?  Maybe ambition is inherently bad. 

Sometimes, I think I want to join the anti-ambition movement, and when I’m around people who seem really spiritual, I try to hide my ambition.  Me, ambitious?  Of course not.  Success? I can take it or leave it..  Sure, I do my best, but I don’t get caught up in the results.

Sometimes it works. Other times I feel like I’m back in ninth grade --  I’m hiding the “A” on my mid-term exam, before my classmates can see it.  After all, if they think I’m not like them, they won’t like me.  So I try to blend in. 

But I’m not in ninth grade any more. 

Post by Susan DiMickele. Photo by noyava, used with permission.