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Is it OK for Me to be Ambitious? —the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly About Ambition

On a scale of one to ten, how ambitious are you?

Of the people around you, family, colleagues, and friends—who do you know who is not ambitious enough—and who is JUST TOO AMBITIOUS?

As a manager in an organization, how do you manage the expectations—the ambitions—of people on your team—as well as your own expectations? What do people around you expect in terms of salary, promotions, authority, and lifestyles? Do you want them to expect more, or are they unrealistic in their expectations?

Is it OK not to be ambitious at all? I know many people to whom ambition is a bad idea and others who never think about it.

Are You Where You Thought You’d be at this Point in Your Life?

At this point in your life, would you personally say that you are ahead of where you thought you’d be—or behind?

Do you feel you’re doing about as much as you’re willing to move your career forward? Are you willing to give more, to get executive coaching, to get more technical training?

Or is it time to say enough is enough? I want to have more time just to live—regardless of the consequences.

Sgt. Luther Rizzo—the Man who did Nothing—and Flourished

If you don’t remember M*A*S*H, it’s worth looking it up on YouTube. M*A*S*H was one of the most popular television comedy series of the 20th Century and still funny today. It’s about doctors during the Korean War, ripped apart emotionally by continuing waves of helicopters bringing the wounded and dying, saving themselves emotionally with their razor sharp, dark humor.

A very minor character in long run of M*A*S*H (1972-1983), Sgt. Luther Rizzo, played by G. W. Bailey, succeeded in his own personal plan—to successfully avoid the burden of ambition.

Rizzo, disheveled with a slow southern drawl, ran the motor pool successfully in spite of avoiding work and frequent naps—underneath vehicles. Rizzo considered himself a success and never wanted to leave the army. “Where else by the Army can you be a bum and get paid for it?”

Appropriate or Toxic Ambition? Which is it?

So what is appropriate ambition? I have known several people who amassed sizable fortunes working 24/7 in the early years for names like AOL, Dell, Microsoft, and Amazon, as well as lesser known names. Some did well, but others ended up with broken health and ruptured relationships. Most of us would agree that appropriate ambition for most of us would be somewhere between Sgt. Rizzo and a life-gutting race for the top.

Here are some facts about ambition:

1. Ambition is Good, as Necessary as Air and Water—You Decide How Much. Theologians and philosophers sometimes speak of ambition as heart of evil—to be rejected—and that can’t be true. Anything you want or need, from a drink of water to a Ferrari car, is based on the ambition to acquire. Those who reject all ambition to beg for a living have a begging bowl made in China, food that someone else earned, and the bed of nails that cost someone something. Minimally we live off our own ambition or off someone else’s. You decide how much ambition you want to have.

2. Ambition is the Tool that Allows Us to be a Successful Team Player—to serve. Appropriate ambition doesn’t take, it gives. The only way to give to others is through abundance, based on your ambition and ability to acquire. The only way you can be a successful team member within an organization an organization is to have the ambition that your team will win!

3. Ambition–Be Your Best—or Your Best to Get By? How do I see me as playing out? The basic question we’re given to answer is how will I use my skills and abilities? I was given my intelligence and skills. Was this for some purpose? We are all inspired by athletes, musicians, scientists, and inventors, who give everything to achieve something never before achieved. But what about me? Like an inventor like Thomas Edison failing over five thousand times to invent a light bulb, it takes enormous energy to use and develop our skills and talents. It is much easier to use just the amount we need and no more. It’s up to us and the level of our ambition.

4. Ambition Builds New and Better Worlds. The power of ambition has transformed the world in two decades, a progress unmatched in human history. Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and inventor of Windows said he did not fear competing organizations, but that unknown engineer working in his or her garage that build something that upends everything. Ambition, not formal education, has fueled invention. Building makes more sense than getting by—personal growth, family stability and security, and something of worth that will live on. That’s the worth of ambition.

5. Ambition Fuels Our Vision – Vision creates where we’ll be tomorrow and in ten years, but ambition fuels that vision. Without ambition, vision falls short. Ambition sees us as being able to accomplish far more than we have been able, and will surprise those who thought we’d never make it.

Ambition can be the rocket fuel of life, if used appropriately. Used inappropriately, it causes people to cross the line into inappropriate behaviors. But make no mistake, the level of ambition you have will be the key factor in where you go in life.

Photo caption: M*A*S*H Sgt. Rizzo – Loving Life, Loafing in Luxury.

Austin, Texas

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Carol Kallendorf, PhD. | (512) 417-9756 

Jack Speer | (512) 417-9428


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