Why Do Some People Have More Ambition Than Others Do?
By: Sarah Fader
Updated January 30, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Cessel Boyd
How do you define ambition? The definition of ambition is a strong desire to do something, even in the face of hard work. Put another way, the definition of ambition is a deep determination to get something done, no matter the cost. Knowing the ambition definition, it seems like something that should affect us all. Some people have more ambition than others. Why is that?
What Is Ambition?
Aspiration is often used as another word for ambition. In fact, if there were an ambition thesaurus, "aspiration" would be one of the synonyms for ambition. However, aspirations and ambitions are two different concepts. If someone has an aspiration, this means that he or she is working toward a very specific goal, like getting a new car or getting into a prestigious college. Ambition is more like a personality trait, something someone has, rather than something they do.
To better understand ambition define the goal. If someone is working toward getting more money or higher status in life, then this is the true meaning of ambition, as one of the ambition definitions is the drive to pursue some reward. Therefore, you could consider one of the possible ambition synonyms to be "success."
Some would define: ambition is a good thing, as it drives a person toward achieving success through hard work. However, for others, what ambition means is that a person prioritizes the wrong things in life, focusing on an emptier outward success, rather than on developing inner peace and happiness.
Why Some People Are More Ambitious Than Others
There are several reasons why one person may be more ambitious than other. For one thing, it may depend on where in the family the person ranks insofar as birth order. The youngest child tends to have a higher ambition because he feels he is always in competition with his older siblings. However, if his siblings are already pretty established, then this may work against the youngest child, causing him to withdraw and become less ambitious.
The same goes for friends. If one friend feels like he is constantly in competition with the other friend, he will go above and beyond to become bigger, faster, and stronger than that friend. Specifically, if one friend is smarter than the other and is always getting better grades, the other friend will stay up all night studying to get grades that are as good as those of his friend.
Some people become more ambitious due to deep-seated insecurity. They constantly feel like they must be better, do better, which drives them to pursue bigger and better always. However, this too can work in reverse, as some insecure people end up withdrawing and giving up on life entirely.
Still, another reason why some people are more ambitious than others stems from the need to prove other people wrong about them. Maybe others view them as "stupid," "slow," or "unmotivated." This is enough to drive some people to develop an "I'll show them" kind of attitude. They'll do whatever it takes to pull their grades up, run faster in gym class, or be at work on time every day, and with a constant stream of new ideas to bring to the table. That'll show them!
Is Ambition A Good Thing?
Generally speaking, yes, ambition is a very good thing. It is the drive that pushes us forward to bigger and better things, and it can be contagious. If your friends and family see you working hard and getting great results, and not being swayed by any obstacle that might get in your way, then they may begin to emulate that behavior in the hopes of achieving a similar result.
However, where things go downhill is with selfish ambition. A kind of selfish ambition definition is to be so driven that you put your own needs above the needs of others.
Consider the following example:
Nothing means more to Betty than having her constantly overworked uncle put his work aside for just one night so that he can come to her dance recital. Uncle Danny could easily postpone his meeting scheduled for that same night so that he could attend the recital, but it is more important to him that he proves to his boss what kind of go-getter he truly is.
Uncle Danny skips the recital and goes to his meeting. Betty devastated that her uncle was unable to put work aside for one night to see her perform in a show that she has been practicing for all year, bungles her performance. The talent scout in the audience focuses his attention elsewhere when Betty might otherwise have danced her way into a scholarship at a respected dance school.
In this example, Uncle Danny put his own selfish needs above the needs of his niece, and her life was negatively impacted as a result. This is an example of selfish ambition. Put another way; a selfish ambition synonym would be, simply, "selfish." That is to say that the selfish ambition meaning is that the person is all about "me, me, me" with no regard for what happens to those that stand in his way.
The Hidden Ingredient
One person's ambition can vary significantly from the next. While one person is constantly working long hours, his co-worker is counting down the minutes until he can punch out at 5:00 and go party. While one student forgoes partying for hitting the books, her roommate stays out all hours of the night and, from outward appearances, could care less about her grades. What is it that truly makes some people more ambitious than others? What does ambition mean insofar as how it affects people so differently?
Because ambition is a personality trait, this makes it a psychological issue, and psychological issues are never simple. However, there is one "secret ingredient" to ambition, that makes it more understandable why everyone experiences ambition at different intensities: bravery. If you aren't brave in the face of a challenge, then you can't possibly be ambitious. In fact, another synonym for ambition could very well be "courage."
If a person is presented with a challenge that scares him, and he cannot work up the courage to take on that challenge, then he will withdraw. And while having nerve can be a synonym ambition can be wiped out by the lack of it.
How To Know If You're Ambitious
Ambition can be viewed one of two ways: you're either the guy who's knocking everyone down to get to the front of the line, or you're the girl who beat out everyone else for that scholarship through hard work and determination.
Ambition doesn't always have to be a cutthroat thing. Ambition is good because it drives you to want better things in life, and life's too short to be miserable.
So what traits do ambitious people tend to share? Well, for one thing, ambitious people tend to create goals that they keep to themselves. This may seem at first like some sneaky, competitive move, but it's more of a psychological thing.
When you make a goal and share it with others, the brain feels tricked into believing you've already accomplished that goal. Why else would you be sharing it? However, keeping your goal close to the vest denies you that false sense of satisfaction and keeps your drive to get things done intact.
What's pretty interesting is that ambitious people do not, in fact, compete with others. At least, not directly. While the youngest sibling may feel like she is competing with her brothers and sisters, in reality, she is competing with herself. She is reminding herself of the goals that her siblings have achieved and is setting even higher goals for herself. She is competing with herself to see if she can meet the goals she has set for herself, rather than trying to best her siblings directly.
Another common trait among the ambitious is one that has been mentioned before: bravery, but more specifically, the willingness to take risks. Ambitious people feel the fear and do it anyway, perhaps because they can manage their fear better than others. Ambitious people also tend to be more open-minded. They understand that if they open themselves up to new experiences, this can help enrich their lives and maybe even aid them in some way of achieving their goal.
How Do You Become More Ambitious?
Some people are simply more ambitious by nature, and that's okay. Their life experiences and environments have molded them into more ambitious people. But if you are unsatisfied with your drive and want to increase your ambition, one of the easiest ways to do this is to surround yourself with ambitious people.
There's a saying that goes: "if you're the smartest person in the room, find a different room." The same goes for ambition. If all of your friends are more relaxed about how they approach challenges in their life, and if you want more than the mundane, then it is in your best interests to seek out people whose life goals more closely match those of your own. This is especially true in the workplace.
Do you often find yourself struggling with insecurity? Consider reaching out to one of our licensed counselors for help and support.