To all the excited entrepreneurs out there; all the game changers who are out to disrupt whole economies; all the young church planters who are reaching to build the next megachurch:
Stop killing people with your ambition.
The desire to achieve is a good thing. Achieving goals feels good, it elevates our sense of self-worth. Achievement is the drive that has fueled so much good: amazing medical advances in prosthetics, exploration of space, conservation of wildlife, and instantaneous global communication, just to name a few off the top of my head.
The desire to achieve pushed Michael Phelps to popularize the sport of swimming by breaking the Olympic Gold Medal record. The desire to achieve kept J.K. Rowling toiling away on the story of a wizard boy named Harry. The desire to achieve prompted Lin Manuel Miranda to persevere with his idea about a hip hop musical about the ten dollar founding father, Alexander Hamilton.
But when the desire to achieve becomes an addiction, it becomes ugly. We start out chasing dreams, but then, as Shanna Skidmore says, the dreams start chasing us. We begin with the best of intentions, but the endorphin rush of meeting goals becomes an addiction.
David Hanson puts it this way on the signal v noise blog:
“I’ve met many extremely accomplished people who’ve had the grave misfortune of reaching one too many of their goals, only to be saddled with an impossibly high baseline for success. It’s devoured their intrinsic motivation, leaving nothing but an increasingly impossible search for another fix of blow-it-out-the-park success.” (From the signal v noise blog)
How can you tell when your ambition has become an addiction? When it harms those around you:
- When your children wither into withdrawn strangers because of benign neglect
- When your spouse bristles because you thoughtlessly dump your frustrations on them.
- When your co-worker withdraws from you because they’ve been burned one too many times.
- When you see an escalating turnover of relationships – people who come in and out of your life.
- When you find yourself upset all the time at the people who don’t “get it.”
- When you ignore the effects of your actions on the broader community.
- When you justify questionable actions with the reason “this is for the greater good.”
Put another way: Selfish ambition robs others for the sake of your advancement. Healthy ambition enriches others for the sake of God’s glory.
Consider Proverbs 10:23-25 :
The desire of the righteous ends only in good, but the hope of the wicked only in wrath.
One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.
A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.
Healthy ambition is about desiring good, giving freely, and refreshing others. In tomorrow’s post, we’ll explore in greater depth what healthy ambition looks like.
I hope this has been helpful. If so, please share with your friends. And be sure to sign up for my newsletter – you’ll get a regular dose of inspiration and encouragement in your inbox.