The Dark Side of Ambition

Can you remember any point in your life when you’ve said, “Alright, this is it, I’ve made it”? Or do you find yourself perpetually asking, “What’s next?” 

It’s not uncommon to always be seeking more. No matter how far you get in life, there is always farther to go. You can make more money, be a better partner or parent, take better care of your health, be better at your job or hobby. 

Success requires ambition. It’s the driving force behind goals.

But when you spend too much mental energy on the gap between where you are now and your end goal, it leads to feeling less satisfied with what you’ve already accomplished, or it begins to look like less of an accomplishment. 

“I wanted to lose 10 lbs. this month, but I only lost 7.” “I wanted to add 100 people to my email list but I only added 65.” This does not mean you failed. This doesn’t mean what you were doing wasn’t working. It simply means that you haven’t hit your goal YET. 

It may not even mean that you should try something different to get there. It may just mean that you need to throw more time at the problem.

But it’s not just a feeling of dissatisfaction that can get to you. When you give yourself a deadline to finish a goal and you don’t meet that goal in the given time frame, you may believe all of the work up to that point was useless.

In either case, you may discount a lot of time and effort that you’ve already invested. Then, when you look to the future and where you’re going, you may begin to question whether continuing to work at the same level, or to push harder, would be worth it. 

If the problem is that you’re continually habituating to new levels of achievement, how do you keep your forward-focus from stalling your momentum? The answer is NOT to lower your standards.

It’s simply to look back. 

More specifically, to look back with appreciation and in celebration. Sounds lame? If you ask me, it’s a lot lamer to put a ton of work into something just to burn out before you hit your goal. 


Remind yourself to practice gratitude. The word practice is key here. It has to be done on a regular basis in order for you to feel the positive effects from it. You may choose to keep a gratitude journal and list 3 things that you’re grateful for each day. You may choose only to do it once a week. Either way, write it down. Make it real.

To boost efficacy in this specific instance, focus on the actions you have taken toward your goal. The most important person to acknowledge is yourself. It’s your goal. No one is working harder than you for it.

Then, focus on those who have helped you along the way (don’t forget to thank them out loud, too). And lastly, focus on things that have gone well.


Say one of your goals for your business is building an email list. You don’t have to put a party hat on every time you get a new subscriber, but you should set milestones for yourself that are relevant to your progress. If your list is brand new, you may want to set this for every 10 subscribers, or 25, or 43, or whatever. The point is, pick a goal that realistically won’t take more than a few weeks to hit. 

If you already have a few thousand subscribers, you might want to make that gap wider, so that the milestone still feels special, and takes some time to hit. When you find your sweet spot, not too big but not too small, choose rewards for yourself.

It’s also perfectly acceptable to brag on yourself. Share your progress with a friend who will feel just as happy and proud of your accomplishment as you do. 

Odds are, if you’re not happy now, you won’t be happy when you reach your goal either. Feeling good about how far you’ve come does NOT make you less ambitious, but it does help to keep you from getting side-swiped by your discontent.

Feeling good about how far you’ve come also does not make you less motivated. If anything, it can help you feel more motivated. You can simultaneously feel pride and feel a desire to continue striving. The balance is achievable.

Significant accomplishments require significant time investments. If you take the time to recognize the work that you have put into an endeavor, to celebrate not just the reaching the end but stops along the path there, you’ll not only have an easier time sticking to it, you’ll feel a hell of a lot better along the way.