Climbing with Ambition: When Is Too Much of a Good Thing, Bad?

“You’ve got to have ambition!” You’ve heard it before… if you want to succeed in business, you better have enough ambition to push you to the top. Ambition is that driving force that won’t let you quit until you’ve reached your goal. So it can’t be a bad thing…right? Actually, too much ambition or ambition left unchecked could end up creating more harm than good.

Tunnel Vision

I once worked in a newsroom with a young, talented reporter who we’ll call Samantha (for this story). Samantha was determined to one day take her place behind the anchor desk of a national newscast. She pitched great stories, did diligent research, and knew how to track down sources. At first glance, she was everything a news producer like me could want in a reporter. But after a few months of working at the station, I began to see what others in the newsroom already knew: her tunnel vision left much to be desired in an employee.

Working Separately

It’s important to set goals and strive for them. But when you become so focused on achieving that prized end result that you lose sight of the here and now, things can get dangerous. I started noticing whenever the newsroom needed extra hands – for instance during breaking news – if Samantha wasn’t working a story, she was hidden away in an edit bay working on her resume reel rather than pitching in.

Working with her became a dreaded task. I could almost always count on an argument any time her story didn’t air high enough in my show, or when I couldn’t give her story more time in the show. And, I wasn’t alone. Samantha was so driven to create the best resume reel to rise to the top, that she didn’t see how she treated the photographers who worked with her. Fed up with her, they did the bare minimum on her stories. Despite all she had going for her, she was no longer guaranteed the best story assignments, as others decided dealing with her wasn’t worth what she could bring to the show.

MoneyWeighed Down By Ambition

Samantha had heaps of ambition, but it weighed her down. So set on reaching the top, she missed the people climbing alongside her. The people who gladly would have shot extra standups for her resume reel or written a glowing reference. An article in The Atlantic, titled “Relationships Are More Important Than Ambition,” focuses on a similar idea. People with unchecked ambition, can be so fixated on their goal that they lose out on the sense of community or social network which – studies show – is a large part of our overall well-being. That could be, in part, why research published in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that the “ambitious” participants who achieved career and material success were not as happy as you would expect people who “have it all” to be.

Timothy Judge, who led the study, explains that another downfall of the overly ambitious is they never experience true satisfaction. “Ambition by definition causes people to raise their goals and aspirations,” he said in an interview with CNN. “If you have the highest goals in the world you’re always going to perceive yourself as falling short.”

Balancing Ambition

So, how do you balance enough ambition for success without tipping the scale into the negative effects? The key is in the present. Keep moving toward your goals, but appreciate the here and now. Take time to shift your focus from the end goal to look at where you are now. Recognize the work it took to get you where you currently are. NothingTeam Player comes easy! Just allow yourself to be grateful for where you are and feel proud. Make a conscious effort to learn about and appreciate the people who you work with everyday because your success is intertwined with theirs.

Samantha eventually left the news station to move on to another. On her last day, there were no long goodbyes or a “Good Luck!” cake at the editorial meeting. We wished her well, but knew we were merely a stepping stone for her on the way to the top. We saw it in her interactions and her lack of regard for the newsroom as a whole.

I recently reconnected with Samantha on social media and discovered a new person. After a few more television stations, she left the news business. She is now very successful working for a marketing firm. And, while we were catching up, she admitted that she was never truly happy during her career in news. She had grown tired. And when she finally loosened her grip on the end goal and focused more on the day-to-day, things really started to come together for her. I can see she is still very driven at her current job, but she approaches it with a different attitude and that seems to have made all the difference.

Meet the Author

Megan Schlosser Filak Megan Schlosser Filak earned a degree in journalism from American University in Washington, DC., after which she spent five nights a week bringing together thousands of people across all walks of life for her news broadcast. From politicians and artists to store clerks and business leaders, she sought to hold the attention of her diverse audience, make engagement a personal experience, and interact through social media. Doing so kept her newscast at the top of ratings.

When Megan chose to retire her producer role after nearly a decade in newsroom, the skills she counted on to seek out and tell countless stories to thousands of viewers helped her as she took on new roles. Since then, Megan has utilized her creativity and quick thinking to plan, promote, and execute successful fundraisers for the American Cancer Society. She now works full time in destination marketing, where she seeks out new and exciting ways to promote her area to both visitors and locals.


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