Why Are Some People More Ambitious Than Others?

By: Sarah Fader

Updated October 21, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Cessel Boyd

What is ambition? How do you define being ambitious? The definition of being an ambitious person is a strong desire to do something, even in the face of hard work. Put another way, the definition of being an ambitious person is a deep determination to get something done, no matter the cost. Knowing what being an ambitious person is, it seems like we’re all ambitious about something in our lives. Yet, some people have more ambition than others. Why is that?

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Ambitious People

Aspiration is often used as another word for being ambitious. In fact, if there were an ambition thesaurus, “aspiration” would be one of the synonyms for being ambitious. However, aspiration and being ambitious 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. Being ambitious is more like a personality trait, something someone has, rather than something they do.

To better understand being an ambitious person, the goal needs to be defined. If someone is working toward attaining more money or a higher status in life, then this is the true meaning of being an ambitious person, as one of the definitions of being ambitious is the drive to pursue some reward. Therefore, you could consider one of the possible ambition synonyms to be “success.”

Some would define being ambitious as a good thing because it drives a person toward achieving success through hard work. However, for others, what being ambitious 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 Have More Ambition

There are several reasons why one person may be more of an ambitious person than another. For one thing, it may depend on where in the family the person ranks insofar as birth order. The youngest child tends to be more of ambitious person because they feel they are always in competition with their older siblings. However, if the siblings are already ambitious, then this may work against the youngest child, causing the child to withdraw and become less of an ambitious person.

The same goes for friends. If one friend feels like they are constantly in competition with the other friend, they 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 earning better grades, the other friend will stay up all night studying to earn grades that are higher than their friend’s.

Some people become more ambitious due to deep-seated insecurity. They constantly feel like they must be better and do better, which drives them to pursue bigger and better. 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 can be more ambitious people 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 with a constant stream of new ideas to bring to the table. That’ll show them!

Is Being An Ambitious Person Always A Good Thing?

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Generally speaking, yes, being an ambitious person 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 being selfishly ambitious. This means that a person is so driven that they put their own needs above the needs of others.

Personal Ambitious Examples

Tomasz has a dance recital and nothing would mean more to him than having his constantly overworked uncle put his work aside for just one night so that he can watch his nephew. His uncle could easily postpone his meeting scheduled for that same night so that he could go, but it is more important to him that he proves to his boss what kind of go-getter he is.

His uncle skips the recital and goes to the meeting. Tomasz is devastated and bungles his performance. The talent scout in the audience focuses their attention elsewhere when Tomasz might otherwise have danced his way into a scholarship at a respected dance school.

In this example, the uncle puts his own selfish needs above the needs of his nephew. The nephew’s life was negatively impacted as a result. This is an example of selfish ambition and could lead to poor quality of life. Put another way: a selfish ambition synonym would be, simply, “selfish.” That is to say, that selfish ambition meaning is that the person is all about “me, me, me” with no regard for what happens to those who stand in their way.

Is There A Hidden Ingredient?

One person’s ambition can vary significantly from the next. While one person is constantly working long hours, their co-worker is counting down the minutes until they can punch out at 5:00 p.m. and go party. While one student forgoes partying for hitting the books, their roommate stays out all hours of the night and, from outward appearances, couldn’t care less about grades. What is it that makes some people more ambitious person than others? What does being ambitious mean insofar as how it affects people so differently?

Because being ambitious is a personality trait, this makes it a psychological issue, and psychological issues are never simple. However, there is one “secret ingredient” to being ambitious that makes it more understandable why everyone experiences being ambitious 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 them, and they cannot work up the courage to take on that challenge, then they will withdraw. So, in a sense “nerve” can be a synonym for being ambitious. If you lack nerve, you also lack being ambitious.

How To Know If You’re Ambitious

Being ambitious can be viewed in one of two ways: you’re either the person who’s knocking everyone down to get to the front of the line, or you’re the person trying to beat out everyone else for that scholarship through hard work and determination.

Being ambitious doesn’t always have to be cutthroat. Being an ambitious person is good because it drives you to want better things in life, and life’s too short not to try for the rewards you desire.

So, what traits does an ambitious person tend to have? Well, for one thing, an ambitious person tends 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 interesting is that ambitious people do not, in fact, compete with others. At least, not directly. While the youngest sibling may feel like they are competing with their siblings, in reality, the youngest sibling is competing against themselves. They are reminding themselves of the goals that their siblings have achieved. The youngest sibling will then set even higher goals. In this way, the youngest sibling is competing against themselves to see if they can achieve those goals rather than trying to best the older siblings directly.
Another common trait among the ambitious has been mentioned before: bravery. To be more specific, this is 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 goals.

How Do You Become More Ambitious?

Some people are simply more ambitious by nature, and that’s okay. Their life experiences and environments can also mold them into being more ambitious. But if you are unsatisfied with your drive and want to increase being ambitious, one of the easiest ways to do this is to surround yourself with ambitious people.
Have you heard the saying “If you’re the smartest person in the room, find a different room”? The same goes for being ambitious. If all of your friends are more relaxed about how they approach challenges in their lives, and if you want more than the mundane, then it is in your best interest to seek out people whose life goals more closely match those of your own. This is especially true in the workplace.

When To See A Therapist

Although you can cultivate being ambitious, perhaps it might be more useful to ask what’s getting in the way of your goals. If you like writing, you could do some exploratory journaling. For example, at the top of a piece of paper, write “What is My Goal?” Then, set the timer for 10 minutes and write without stopping. Forget about spelling and punctuation and grammar. You’re the only one who will see this. When the timer ends, read what you wrote and underline anything that gives you insight into what might be hindering your progress toward your goal. From there, brainstorm possible solutions.

If writing is not your thing, you could talk to a trusted friend or family member. Sometimes talking out your thoughts to someone else will give you the insight you need to discover why that goal still hasn’t been completed. And, if you feel comfortable doing so, you could ask for feedback.

Another option is to see an in-office or online counselor. They can help you identify obstacles to your goals. Maybe an underlying reason is that you’re unsure of widening your comfort zone. You can then explore this further with your therapist.

How BetterHelp Can Help You

Meet Your Ambitious Goals

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If talking to a counselor is something you’re interested in but don’t have the time for, you can reach out to BetterHelp today. You can meet with counselors wherever you feel most comfortable, whether that be your home or in your car or anywhere else, and at a time that best fits you. Our counselors can help you come up with a plan to reach your goal. Or, you might even discover that the goal wasn’t really yours all along. It was someone else’s and that you have another goal that best suits who you are. Below are a couple of counselor reviews from people experiencing similar issues.

Counselor Reviews

“Working with my therapist Karen Van Acker, I was able to work through a whirlwind of difficult transitions and changes along with everything else that came along this tumultuous year. Simply put, she was a light and voice of reassurance and encouragement for my future. She introduced me to tools I can use to achieve personal, professional goals, and will forever be grateful for meeting her.”

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“Shirley is very thoughtful, considerate, and attentive. She is easy to talk to and gives the impression of genuine interest and concern. I would highly recommend Shirley to anyone looking to overcome my wide range of personal insecurities or simply looking to grow and better themselves.”

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