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One of the most cliché things ever spoken is how “ambition” is the number one reason any successful person gets to where they are, be it a CEO, politician or renown scientist. “I always had ambition since I was very young, and I never stopped working for what I wanted … BLAH BLAH BLAH.” Yeah, yeah, we’ve heard it all before – please shut up.

We all know this saying cannot be 100% accurate since most people have no idea what it is they really want until they have reached a point of reckoning in their lives. Furthermore, the things we wish to achieve have an obnoxious tendency to change with time. What we wanted five years ago may more or less be something we want now, but not to the same extent and certainly not by the same means. Not to mention, it may not even be a top priority anymore. Other needs will arise that require resolution before the ones we had prior. Circumstances and life experience have a wonderful way of messing up all of our well thought-out plans on the future. There is only one thing that we can be certain of: as our perspectives change, so do our goals and aspirations.

When you consider the magnanimity of the last statement, it seems almost amazing anyone ever gets an idea of what they really want. But once you have the idea, even if it is fleeting, it becomes the source of your ambition. To acquire whatever that goal or dream is, you find yourself expending your energies and putting yourself through all kinds of grief to get there. Sometimes the journey and the hardships that plague it may be reason enough to kill that ambition, and other times, as we close in on our intended target, we may be shocked to find it really wasn’t what we wanted at all.

Ambition is defined as the desire for personal advancement or preferment and may suggest equally a praiseworthy or an inordinate desire. Motivation can be defined as a force, stimulus, or influence that results in action. In other words, the ambition is what one strives for; the motivation is the reason that results in the ambition. For example, a man may have the ambition to be one of the wealthiest CEO’s in the world. The motivation for this may be that he has lived a life of poverty and is sick of being without.

Think about the things in your life that you would like to accomplish and consider the reasons as to why these self-set goals came about. Be sure to look at them critically, to fully understand your true motives underneath all of them. It will give you a good idea of where your ambitions and motivations lie.

However, ambition and motivation in themselves do not guarantee a means to an end. There is also the process of how we go about trying to accomplish these things. Some of our procedures may be ineffective and cumbersome. Some may well be outright self-defeating. If you want to make a fortune, you might try doing some heavy-duty investments on high-risk stocks. The process could result in money quickly, but it also has a much higher percentage of leaving you living in a cardboard condominium on the streets. If you had just developed a little more patience (or SELF-CONTROL) and planned something that might be a little more time consuming, you could have just as easily arrived at your intended goal without destroying yourself in the process of trying.

Of course, there is also the issue of whether or not your ambition is something you really want. We can often paint rosy pictures of being in a certain situation, but easily overlooked the difficulties that come with it (and trust me, they ALWAYS do). A good indication as to whether or not one’s goal is ideal can be determined by the motivation that has created the ambition. For example, let’s take the common situation of the woman who marries for the wrong reasons; in this case, the reason is just to be married (as she was programmed to think was mandatory by her childhood). She manages to find someone who is responsible, financially stable, and treats her well. They get married, settle into a nice home, have their couple of kids, and that is that. Within the following years, she finds she is restless and unhappy. But why? She got what she wanted, didn’t she? But there in lies the problem … her ambition was to get married because her motivation was based off of a set of societal standards she was raised by. Her motivation, however, was not because it would make her happy.

Sometimes are motivations are not things we create for ourselves. They can often be by-products of the life experiences we have and the environments we grew up in. It is important for us to understand our motivations and how we came about them in the first place. We have to be constantly mindful of why we do the things we do and how our reasoning developed as to why we should do them. Ambitions can easily be placed upon us by what is expected of us from our peers (parents, teachers, friends, society, etc). Look at the Kennedys. They were specifically groomed since birth to be politicians. What would be really interesting to ask one of them is if they ever really considered how they felt about that. Did it ever occur to them that maybe they would have been happier and led more fulfilled lives if they did something else?

Another interesting perspective to consider is the idea of outcome versus procedure. There are many people who do things not because they desire the outcome of a course of action, but because they enjoy the course of action itself. While there are many Olympic athletes who would love the idea of winning the Gold Medal, there are just as many of them who just love the process of competing and training in the sport they take part in. The journey of getting there is really what it is all about. The outcome, if completely realized, is just an extra perk.

Ask yourself the following:

  • What is it that drives you to do what you feel you need to do? Why do you need it at all?
  • Are you more interested in the outcome of an action, or the process of the action itself? In what situations do each one of these apply?
  • Do you find yourself more motivated by tense situations or are they constrictive? Does conflict and negative circumstances cause you to act more quickly? If so, how effective are your processes? Are they quick and concise, or usually mired with mistakes and cumbersome? (AKA you reacted to quickly because you were irritated)
  • Is there something that motivates in a way that’s more detrimental than helpful in accomplishing your goals?
  • How often are you driven to do things you really don’t care? Is your ambition often wasted? What ambitions do you have that aren’t really ones you chose for yourself?

Remember our ambitions are a product of our motivations. Our motivations are a product of the influences of our environments and our life experiences (both positive and negative). Be sure that yours are of use to you.