Who are ambitious people

Ambitions: The pursuit of success has a price

Aim high! - Those looking for success should aim high. Think as big as possible and still want to achieve a little more. Don't be a small mind. The mysterious driving force behind it are ambitions - in German: ambition. Visionaries outshine others with their aspirations and their achievements. They climb the career ladder at a breeze, achieve greater success and get better jobs. It is not uncommon for income to grow at the same time. Ambitions have made many a career shine and glory. As is so often the case, however, there is also a downside: Ambitions can also destroy people ...

➠ Content: This is what awaits you

➠ Content: This is what awaits you

What are ambitions?

The term “ambition” probably got into German through French and originally comes from the Latin noun “ambitio”. In the German translation, this means something like "ambition", "zealous effort" or "vanity".

Typical synonyms are determination, ambition and competition. The word is often used in the plural. We say: "Someone has great ambitions" - and by this we mean that someone has great goals, wants to achieve more than others or the average. At the same time, however, there is always the desire to stand out from the crowd, to be better.

Ambition and ambition are always relative. It's not just about achieving "something", but "more" (than others). Ambitions are always latent in the idea of ​​competition. A definition could therefore be:


Ambitions mean a person's striving for particularly high goals or particularly great success. It is often associated with recognition, influence, prestige or power, and less often with material benefits. Those who are ambitious want to achieve great things personally, but also to be admired or coveted for it.



The word “coveted” is no coincidence. Ambitions, attractiveness and attraction are inextricably linked. Success makes you sexy. Women are drawn to ambitious men. Men, on the other hand, develop unbelievable ambitions to be seductive to women - up to the ostentatious formula: "My house, my car, my boat." Seen in this light, sex and ambition have always been siblings.

Are ambitions innate?

There are people who seem to have been born with striving for higher things. Your ambition is strongly linked to the character. Still, it's not fate to be ambitious. Some of it is genetically determined, believes, for example, the US psychologist Dean Simonton from the University of California: "Ambition is energy plus determination," says Simonton.

But it also needs goals that are worth working towards, so that the inner driving forces can unfold. Or to put it another way: ambitions are above all a matter of will. The more concretely we formulate our goals, the more vivid the satisfaction associated with them, the greater the passion that we develop for them.

Ambitions can therefore be developed and thus learned and trained.


Don't show me how to walk if I want to learn how to fly!

Is ambition more important than intelligence?

The French writer Victor Hugo supposedly wrote the following sentence: "Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come." The vernacular, on the other hand, says: "Where there is a will, there is a way." But the best idea is of no use if the enlightened mind lacks the ambition to put it into practice.

The best idea without a plan is just a pious wish.

Without ambition, without the sometimes stubborn will to feasibility, there would have been no inventions and developments, some professional careers would never have taken place, highly paid specialists would have continued to scrape their way through life as street musicians.

Ambitions are an essential engine of success. If you have no goals, you cannot achieve anything. Those who do not strive fail at the first hurdles and obstacles.

More and more studies indicate that this unconditional will to succeed is even more important than intelligence. When, for example, the personnel consultancy Heidrick & Struggles asked more than 1000 German managers some time ago which criteria were decisive for their careers, the result was surprising: not origin, not education or intelligence were beneficial. Above all, ambition and a functioning network were the most important criteria for career advancement.

“Nobody is so talented that they don't have to fight to be successful,” says University of Pennsylvania psychologist Angela Duckworth. This not only requires goals, but also determination and implementation skills. Lewis Terman, the inventor of the Stanford intelligence test, comes to a similar conclusion. For decades he followed the development of particularly talented (and successful) students - and discovered that intelligence is sometimes overrated, persistence and ambition often had the greater impact on success.

According to the US psychologists Andrew Elliot and Marcy Church, professional ambitions in particular can be divided into two categories:

  • learning goals
    Those who pursue these goals primarily want to perfect their abilities, skills and knowledge. These people strive for their own excellence.
  • Performance goals
    Performance-oriented people, on the other hand, are in constant competition with others: They constantly compare themselves and want to be better than others (or make fewer mistakes).

Of course, you have an inkling of what research now knows about both types of ambition: People who pursue learning goals are often more satisfied with themselves and their job. On top of that, they are less dogged.

Good reasons for more ambitions

Ambitions aren't just good for your career. There are other reasons to be more ambitious as well as develop bigger ambitions:

  • Ambitions promote character
    Ambition is already considered a positive trait. Ambitions also affect other personality traits. Ambitious people are usually more disciplined when it comes to putting goals into practice. And they develop more assertiveness, but also have the necessary patience. Even creativity can arise from ambition when it comes to finding ways and solutions.
  • Ambitions can be transferred
    An ambitious personality does not limit itself to any part of life. Those who develop ambitions in their job usually also have them in their free time - for example with a hobby or in sports. And vice versa. Those who learn to think and act ambitiously benefit from it in a wide variety of areas.
  • Ambitions lead to great satisfaction
    There is hardly anything that gives you such a good feeling as to meet your own requirements and achieve ambitious goals. This not only earns you the respect of others, but also allows you to be proud of yourself and what you have achieved. This also strengthens your self-confidence and so-called self-efficacy.

A blessing and a curse of ambition

Ambitions can affect different areas in life:

  • Some people develop political ambitions by soliciting voters and seeking political office.
  • Others develop professional ambitions, want to pursue a career or start their own company.
  • Still others have artistic or scientific ambitions.

"Ambition, vanity, pride - these are forces that have tremendous elasticity and can take a person far," wrote the Danish existential philosopher and theologian Søren Kierkegaard. It is, however, the same forces that can also plunge us into ruin. Ambition and ambition can vary in strength. The spectrum ranges from athletic to pathological. Or as Paracelsus would say: "The dose makes the poison."

For example, those who are “over-ambitious” will at some point be able to use any means to achieve their goal. He or she seeks success at all costs - whatever the cost. And if it is the soul or health. As it was once with Icarus. His ambitions to fly towards the sun only brought him down in the end.

Scientists like the Canadian researcher Robert Vallerand therefore differentiate between “harmonious” and “compulsive” passion. Both forms may be driven by ambition. But with the compulsive and the over-ambitious variant, passion turns into obsession. Such people often mutate into workaholics or even end up in burnout.

“The price for ambition is high,” says Manfred Kets de Vries, head of the Global Leadership Center at the French business school Insead. There is a fine line between constructive and misguided ambition: if things go well, ambitious people can move mountains. If things go bad, they can plunge entire countries into ruin - as history shows.

Are ambitious people happier?

Many ambitious people have worked their way up from unfavorable circumstances. Often they have one quality in common that the Stuttgart aptitude diagnostician Heinz Schuler calls “compensatory effort”: Fearing relegation, these people develop enormous efforts and control strategies to maintain or improve their status - even at the risk of becoming nerds be valid. But what does it look like inside? Do these people make their ambitions happier?

“No,” says Timothy Judge, a management professor at the University of Notre Dame. At least not necessarily. It is true that ambitions would undoubtedly have a positive effect on careers and success. But those affected are hardly happier than their less ambitious colleagues. His long-term studies showed that ambitions had a smaller impact on satisfaction and happiness than assumed. “All the investments in a career may also have their costs,” Judge concludes from the study.

Ambition has a price

Even if we welcome ambitions, we don't want to ignore the downside: every career has its price. The biggest cost factor is the most ignored: time. Professional success can only be achieved if you do more and better than others.

As a result, there is less freedom for your own concerns - family, children, friends, hobbies. At first it is not noticeable, the friends and partners may have similar ambitions. But at some point the parties are canceled because you still have to work. The vacation is limited to weekends with iPad and iPhone. Friendships mutate into communities of convenience. The loneliness grows.

Success costs compromise. However, some also sacrifice values ​​for their ambitions:

  • Why do you keep silent with seeing eyes?
  • Why do you say “yes” when your conscience is already screaming “no”?

Often it is a gradual process. Concessions start with the language. Then behaviors are aligned. At the end there is a moral justification through the custom: “Everyone does it like that!” Those who make such compromises too often become strangers to themselves until they are just a shell - so thick-skinned that they can stand upright even without a backbone .

In the specialist literature one speaks of the "déformation professional", the deformed personality. This is how far these ambitious people have come: They are a pitiful species.

So it doesn't hurt to be aware of your ambitions and their consequences from time to time.

Success is and remains a question of balance in life and the balance of one's own goals and values. Maintaining a healthy distance from your own status, keeping your feet on the ground - these are essential antidotes. But above all: keep an eye on the price that you are just about willing to pay for your ambitions.


How happy is a life when it begins with love and ends with ambition. (Blaise Pascal)

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