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Avoiding endless ambition

Endless drive, competitive spirit, fierce ambition, it's what it takes to get to the top and to make sure you stay there. Or is it?


Constantly pushing more can actually leave you ending up with less. Less time, less success, less happiness.

In Ego is the enemy Ryan Holiday talks about a need to be ‘better than’ to be ‘recognised for’ that’s often tied up in an unhealthy belief in our own importance.

When you have a distorted reality your ego – and its ambition – can work against what you really have. Your skill, your craft, your insight, and your ability to lead. As Marina Abramović said ‘If you start believing in your greatness, it is the death of your creativity.’

Endless ambition, the relentless, pedal to the metal drive to get more, is in some ways the easy option (as is sitting back and taking your foot off the gas). But it’s not sustainable, it doesn’t give space for creativity, and it doesn’t cultivate resilience.

Find your sweet spot

To give yourself the best chance of success you need to find your sweet spot.

The place that steers clear of what Jim Collins calls ‘the undisciplined pursuit of more’ but also avoids complacency.

It’s a bit like when you hit your stride on a run or a ride. If you attack it with fierce ambition from the start, you’ll burn out half-way through, and it will be a battle to the end. But if you ease into your sweet spot, where you’re happy with the pace but know you have more to give, you’ll have fuel in the tank to take on challenges when they come.

Apply the right pressure

Applying the right pressure at the right time isn’t a new concept – it goes right back to Aristotle – but when we don’t it can have real consequences, for your business and your life outside of work.

Think about the past 6 months. Have there been times when the ego of your ambition has led you to make decisions you’ve regretted? Have you looked back on opportunities you’ve missed because you were too busy chasing the big win? Could starting from a place of gratitude and humility rather than ego and ambition have changed the outcome?

Be strategic

Nothing is infinite. Your time, your energy, your resources, there’s a limit to them all. To go back to the running analogy again, if you’re going for your PB it takes a bit if strategic thinking. The right kit, the right route, putting the right training in, heading out on a cool and calm day, identifying what you want to achieve. It’s not enough to just have the blind ambition to keep running faster or longer.

We need to be focused with our ambitions. To not just want more status, more money, more clients, more possessions, just for the sake of it. But to focus our finite resources on the things that matter.

Focus on the important things

Wanting more isn’t bad per se. Seeking to be better, to learn, to grow your impact, these are all great, as long as they contribute to what’s important. To your happiness (and that of those around you), to the purpose of your business, to the success of your team.

When you’re thinking about where to focus your energy next – take a moment to think about what’s driving you. Is it an unrelenting need for more? Or is it the belief that this way lies the path to fulfilling your goals?