What is Healthy Ambition?

Yesterday we talked about unhealthy ambition.  Today, as promised, we look more closely at healthy ambition.

Aliza Weller, in her TEDx talk, makes a helpful distinction between ambition and aspiration.  She looks at the Latin root ambitio, which means “going around soliciting votes.”   It implies striving for honor and preferment.  In contrast, she advocates aspiration, which comes from aspirare, which is rooted in the word for breathing into.

That’s a pretty good contrast – compelling something from others vs breathing something into others.

God’s breath is often used as a Biblical image to convey God’s creative, sustaining power:  (Psalm 33:6, Job 33:4, Ezekiel 37:4-14).   Jesus breathes onto his disciples when he says to “receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22).

Healthy ambition is aspiration – breathing power and nourishment into others.  This is right in line with what we saw yesterday in Proverbs 10:23-25: healthy ambition is about desiring good, giving freely, and refreshing others.

There are a couple of assumptions implicit in this:

1) You have something to give.

You have a distinctive contribution, a singular voice. You have strengths within.Don’t fall for the trap of thinking that to be humble is to debase yourself, to deny your worth, or to say you have nothing to offer.

Our natural abilities, our experiences, and our reflective analysis all combine together to create potent and unique gifts.  They are our edge, our niche, our calling card.  They are what differentiate us from anyone else on the planet.  As I’ve said before, you have a distinctive contribution, a singular voice. You have strengths within.

Walt Whitman wrote his exultant “Song of Myself” as a celebration of human dignity.  The Bible affirms the same truth in Psalm 139:

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.  My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

Your uniqueness is a gift from God.  The Bible makes it clear that all human dignity is bestowed – it is derived from the Lord’s design.  This is important for the next point:

2) You have nothing to prove.

Back to Eliza Weller’s talk.  She suggests that her unhealthy ambition arose from a desperation, a need for safety, a need to prove herself.  Letting go of that need was powerful for her.

There is deep within each of us a need for significance, love, affirmation, and approval.

Christ fully meets that need.

That’s the astonishing truth of grace.  Grace is the something we don’t earn, but is bestowed by God.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

When we grasp this truth, we realize that we truly have nothing to prove.  We are completely accepted.  We have already been given an A in the course.  We are free – free from the need to carve out a niche, free from the need of approval, free from the need to have an empire in our name.   We are truly, astonishingly free.

3) Christ sends you as His instrument to bless others.

God has given us gifts, and God has prepared opportunities for us to exercise those gifts.  There are challenges for us to face, puzzles to work out, things to build, works to work, and deeds to accomplish.  Our performance in all of these tasks don’t affect how God feels about us.  Our security does not depend on our success.  We are free to enjoy the doing:

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which He prepared in advance for us to do.”  (Ephesians 2:10)

Not only are we fully accepted by God_s grace, but our gifts are fully employed by God_s grace.Not only are we fully accepted by God’s grace, but our gifts are effectively employed by God’s grace.

And when we spend our energies exercising our gifts in the tasks that God has prepared for us to do, we experience something fantastic:  Joy.

Joy, as I’ve said elsewhere, is the sense of self-loss that comes from the pursuit of the Good.

And therein lies all the difference.  Unhealthy ambition seeks to carve self out of the addiction to accomplishment; healthy ambition loses self in the exercise of gifts in God’s good works.

And at the heart of it all is grace.



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.

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