I'm going to begin by saying there's nothing wrong with ambition. If you want a corner office, a seat at the table, or any other achievement that proves you've arrived, then go for it. How you want to live your life is your own doing. However, I will say that ambition doesn't always equal success.
According to a new study forthcoming in the Journal of Applied Psychology, ambitious people are barely happier than less ambitious people.
“If ambition has its positive effects, and in terms of career success it certainly seems that it does, our study also suggests that it carries with it some cost,” said Timothy Judge, a professor of management at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business. “Despite their many accomplishments, ambitious people are only slightly happier than their less-ambitious counterparts, and they actually live somewhat shorter lives.”
Judge tracked 717 high-ability people over seven decades, measuring ambition during all phases of their lives. The individuals' education levels ranged from Ivy League schools to high school diplomas.
“Ambitious kids had higher educational attainment, attended highly esteemed universities, worked in more prestigious occupations and earned more,” Judge said. “So, it would seem that they are poised to ‘have it all.’ However, we determined that ambition has a much weaker effect on life satisfaction and actually a slightly negative impact on longevity (how long people lived). So, yes, ambitious people do achieve more successful careers, but that doesn’t seem to translate into leading happier or healthier lives.”
Judge's research, however, didn't show the reason why ambitious people have shorter lives.
“Perhaps the investments they make in their careers come at the expense of the things we know affect longevity: healthy behaviors, stable relationships and deep social networks,” he said. “If your biggest wish for your children is that they lead happy and healthy lives, you might not want to overemphasize professional success. There are limits to what our ambitions bring us—or our children.”
How ambitious are you? How do you measure personal or professional success? Please let us know in the comments.