“On average, ambitious people attain higher levels of education and income, build more prestigious careers, and report higher overall levels of life satisfaction,” says Neel Burton, psychiatrist and author of “Heaven and Hell: The Psychology of the Emotions.” “Many of man’s greatest achievements are the products, or accidents, of their ambition.”
So what is ambition and what causes someone to be ambitions?
In a recent study conducted by Judge and Kammeyer-Muller (2012), the meaning of ambition is explained.
The authors define ambition as “The persistent and generalized striving for success, attainment, and accomplishment.” They also note that ambition usually involves goal setting. It does, however differ from pure conscientiousness or the basic need to achieve. People who are only motivated to achieve tend to focus on developing skills and competence rather than pursuing material rewards. Ambition, however, is specifically concerned with obtaining money or prestige.
Ambition can often be confused with aspirations, but it is important to see the difference between these two things. Aspirations involves striving towards a specific goal; whereas ambition is a trait. Ambition is behavior that manifests itself over an extended period of time. When someone is ambitious they continuously create new goals for themselves and pursue these goals with intent.
Society has adopted different attitudes towards ambition. As the authors note:
“Historically, some writers have viewed ambition as a good thing, because it seems to lead toward hard work and success. However, others have considered ambition a vice, because its over-emphasis on the pursuit of external wealth leads to inadequate emphasis on internal fulfillment and happiness.”
These ideas were tested in the study.
The Findings of the Study
The authors used more than 60 years of data that was accumulated from the Terman life-cycles study. This data allowed them to see the positive aspects of ambitions.
They discovered various underlying factors that caused ambition, such as: “conscientiousness, extraversion, low neuroticism, general mental ability, as well as parents’ occupational prestige.”
The authors also revealed that ambitious people attained higher levels of education, landed more prestigious jobs, and received higher incomes than non-ambitions people. This was shown to led to a modest increase satisfaction with life and longevity.
Let us take a look at some more factors that cause someone to have an ambitious personality.
Why Some People Are Ambitious
The youngest child in the family is often compared to his older more skilled and proficient siblings. This can have one of two effects: either the youngest child withdraws and deems himself incapable; or he becomes very ambitious. The competition he experiences early on, with his siblings, elicits a drive in him that makes him want to do better than everyone else who competes with him when he grows up.
If a person has a big ego and is also equipped with bravery, they are likely to be ambitious. Their bravery will allow them to pursue grand goals, and their ego will give them the belief that they deserve a better life. This combination will result in extreme ambition.
Insecurity and Ambition
If an individual is insecure, he can become very ambitions. Insecurity puts a person under extreme psychological pressure, which can lead him to do one of two things: either he becomes extremely ambitious in an effort to change his life and put an end to his insecurities; or he withdraws and opts out of life. Most billionaires grew up in poverty and this created extreme financial insecurities.
Tough Comparisons and Ambition
If an individual finds himself in a situation where he is forced to compete with his peer, he may become very ambitious. For example, if a man who is fairly poor surrounds himself with rich friends, he may acquire the need to become very rich himself and as a result, he is driven to ambition.
The Desire to Be Worthy
The desire to prove to oneself that you are worthy can promote ambition. For example, some very successful people were adopted. An adopted child may want to prove to the world and to his biological parents that he is worthy, and this can lead to ambition.
When an individual is confident in their abilities and they believe that they can reach their goals and get the things they want, they are likely to be ambitions.
The Desire to Prove Others Wrong
If an individual has experienced rejection, humiliation, and disapproval, they can be motivated to prove the people who made them feel these negative emotions wrong. An individual who has experienced many rejections may become ambitious to prove to these who rejected him that they were wrong.
Having healthy ambition is crucial: “People with a high degree of healthy ambition are those with the insight and strength to control the blind forces of ambition, shaping [it] so that it matches their interests and ideals,” says Burton. “They harness it so that it fires them without also burning them or those around them.”
So if you are someone who would consider themselves ambitious, make sure that you shape your ambition into something that has a positive impact on you and on others around you.