What Does Ambition Mean: An Overview

By Nicole Beasley

Updated December 18, 2018

Reviewer Audrey Kelly, LMFT

Ambition is officially defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as "an ardent desire for rank, fame, or power" and "the desire to achieve a particular end." Contrary to somewhat popular belief, thoughts and perceptions regarding ambition vary, especially in certain circles and environments. While ambition is widely thought of in a favorable light, some individuals conversely view ambition as the root behind greed and other malevolent forces which are associated with the darker side of humanity.

Interestingly enough, just as "too much" ambition is generally viewed as a negative trait, too little ambition is also looked down upon. For instance, an individual who is deemed to be overly ambitious may not have a problem with stepping on people or otherwise harming others if it means that they get an advantage or a leg up. Conversely, someone who lacks ambition altogether may not feel the desire to work and will only instead exist as a freeloader, depending upon the fruits of others' labor for the sake of survival.

A Healthy Explanation Of Ambition

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In essence, Psychology Today affirms that ambition exists as somewhat of a double-edged sword. For this reason, it goes without saying that in and of itself, ambition is not necessarily good or bad. The amount of ambition and the actions one takes in the name of ambition is what can truly be defined as right or wrong.

For instance, most individuals would agree that working long hours for the sake of advancing one's career is not only good but also indicative of a strong work ethic. On the other hand, the majority of people overwhelmingly believe that lying, cheating, or stealing for the sake of professional advancement is wrong and immoral. Both actions arguably maintain ambitious roots, however, the choice or work extensive hours or engage in deceit for the sake of prosperity are conscious decisions.

Payment is another factor which maintains close ties to ambition. The desire for rank, fame, power, or a specific end is quite common, yet there is always something which must be bartered or sacrificed to fulfill this ambition. For example, an ambitious lawyer who wants to make partner at her firm may have to invest long hours into her company, thus sacrificing time which could otherwise be spent resting or congregating with relatives or friends.

Ultimately, this lawyer will have to determine whether or not her professional goals are worth missing out on certain times with people that she cares for. If she is willing to pay the price and invest the time, she will likely accomplish her aspiration of being made partner. However, if she decides that this form of required payment is, indeed, not worth it, she is extremely unlikely to make partner. There are no free lunches in life; everything comes with a price in one form or another, despite initial transparency, or lack thereof.

Ambition And Psychological Strength

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Believe it or not, some of the most ambitious men and women on this planet have considerable psychological strength, as explained by additional Psychology Today reports. Psychological strength is a critical fact in the fulfillment of ambition for one simple, yet impactful, reason: life is not fair. Achieving goals and dreams rarely comes without struggles and challenges. The ability to overcome these roadblocks regardless of how mighty they may appear to be is what truly makes the difference. Psychological strength, or lack thereof, can furthermore determine whether or not someone succeeds or fails in their endeavors.

When most people think of struggles and challenges, they often think of financial hardship, the death of a loved one, or other devastating, life-changes situations. While the occurrences above can certainly exist as roadblocks in the path to success and greatness, sometimes the challenges are less vast, yet still, maintain the potential to wreak havoc.

At one point or another, the majority of successful individuals will admit that they were discouraged or doubted on their journeys. Many people are intimidated by those who dare to break ceilings and reject societal norms and expectations. Sometimes this intimidation is rooted in envy, ignorance, or genuine concern for the ambitious man or woman. Nevertheless, regardless of intentions, the masses tend to tell ambitious individuals that proceeding to accomplish certain goals is unrealistic or otherwise unsafe. This advice may come in the form of recommending someone to "keep [their] day job," reconsider a move, etc.

This point is where the paramountcy of psychological strength comes into play. An ambitious individual who truly wishes to achieve the goals they've set for themselves must be willing to work hard, stick to their guns, and never give up even when people around them are doubtful, distrustful, or skeptical. A person who is easily swayed and ruled by the opinions of others is unlikely to go far or fulfill the burning ambition within them. As previously stated, many detractors of aspirational individuals have the best intentions; nevertheless, their advice is still harmful and should be respectfully rejected.

A huge part of psychological strength is a self-belief; it sounds easy, but it can be quite challenging. Believing in oneself is effortless when everyone in their social circles is singing their praises and lauding their expertise. Conversely, self-belief and psychological strength are both tested when an ambitious person finds themselves being told what could go wrong, what they should or shouldn't do, etc. The subsequent decision will determine whether or not this person succeeds or fails.

How To Maintain Ambition

In the initial phases of achieving a goal, ambition is quite common. Virtually everyone starts off with the desire for a certain endgame in mind, yet, maintaining this ambitious and subsequently putting in the work to make a big difference. According to WikiHow, there are a variety of steps which ambitious individuals can take as they strive towards accomplishing the goals which they have set for themselves.

Remember The Upsides

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Losing traction or steam midway can be quite common. In fact, this loss of energy is largely attributed to why certain people fail to achieve their dreams and ambitions. Everyone has full steam in the beginning, but along the way, the momentum can be challenging to sustain, especially when the individual at hand is battling obstacles, dodging naysayers, and other metaphorical blows.

This is the point where mindfulness of the upsides or advantages comes into play. For instance, someone who wants to lose a certain amount of weight may start off going to the gym several times per week. Everything is fine and dandy in the beginning. Then, they start getting opinions from other individuals. A critic tells them that they'll never lose the weight by working out. This individual may start to feel discouraged when the pounds aren't dropping off as quickly as they would like.

Rather than giving up and throwing in the towel altogether, this person has the responsibility to remind themselves of the benefits associated with their actions. Consistently working out breeds dedication, discipline, both of which will be magnified upon the accomplishment of designated weight loss. Remembering what truly matters is the fuel which will propel ambitious individuals through some of the most challenging times of their journey.

Take One Step At A Time

Ambitious people who have certain endgames in mind may fall for the common trap of getting ahead of themselves or attempting to take on more than they can handle at one time. Under the worst circumstances, this misstep can be deadly. Having ambition and the determination to succeed is commendable. Over tasking,oneself, however, is counterproductive and rarely breed favorable outcomes. For this reason, it is best to pursue lofty goals one step at a time. Not only does this present stronger opportunity for growth, but the step-by-step process moreover allows ambitious people to acquire additional information which may better serve them in the future. As the age-old saying goes, haste makes waste.

A Final Word

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Ambition, in and of itself, is not a negative trait, nor should it be regarded as such. The manners in which individuals go about fulfilling their ambition are the ultimate determining factors of moral or immoral conduct. Harboring the desire to reach great heights, fulfill dreams, and move mountains are admirable. As such, individuals with ambition should be sure to pursue their goals righteously, honestly, and fairly.

In many situations, having someone to confide in can also make a wonderful difference in the lives of aspirational people. Many of these individuals often feel as though they have to go at things alone or otherwise isolate themselves from others. While a degree of solitude can be healthy and grounding, too much isolation can have extremely damaging impacts on one's psychological and emotional help. Friends and relatives can serve as world-class confidants, as can licensed professions.

Here at BetterHelp, we specialize in providing guidance and assistance to people, regardless of who they are or what they have been through. Interested persons can contact BetterHelp at any time by clicking here.


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