The dark side of ambition

The dark side of ambition

by Eunice Chua 07 Jan 2020

Productivity and success are so highly regarded in modern society that it’s not hard to get caught up in the rat race and the expectations of doing and achieving more. When you start deriving most of your satisfaction from checking things off your endless to-do list than from actually relaxing and catching a breather, it may be a sign that you are becoming addicted to achievement.


Ambition – the glorious drive to forge on and achieve one’s goals – can become dangerous when you become so addicted to it that you lose track of everything else. When this happens, the addiction to success prevents you from living in the moment and constantly pushes you onto new goals when you’ve barely had time to celebrate past achievements. How do you save yourself from the crippling effects of this tunnel vision? It starts with investing effort in the following areas.  


  • Shrink your workload and expectations

As an overly ambitious person, chances are that you are overloading yourself with commitments and responsibilities. The first step towards beating toxic ambitiousness is to reduce your workload and expectations. Start by taking non-essential things off your to-do list, both work and personal commitments included. If you have a type-A personality and can’t stand not micromanaging every aspect of a project, it’s time to start delegating the work and relieving yourself of some duties.


  • Set boundaries between your work and personal life

Setting actual boundaries to separate your work and personal life will help you get more relaxation and me-time, so be strict about these boundaries. For example, keep your productive hours strictly from 9 to 5 and spend the rest of the day unwinding.


  • Change your perception of rest time

People who are addicted to achievement tend to get antsy when they aren’t doing anything productive. Rethinking the concept of rest can help you stop wanting to convert all your downtime into work time – think of rest as a way of recharging for the next day instead. Remind yourself that you can’t be at your best if you don’t get sufficient rest!


  • Recognise and celebrate your achievements

Taking the time to slow down allows you to step back and appreciate your current situation. The best way to do this is to focus on your existing achievements and to celebrate them. Let the magnitude of what you have achieved sink in and reflect on your personal progress. Bask in the pride of your achievements – you deserve it!


  • Practice mindfulness all the time

One of the most powerful tools you can wield against stopping your ambitions from getting ahead of yourself is to always be mindful. Be aware of the moment you're in and remind yourself where you are and what your goals are. Regular self-evaluations give you an opportunity to adjust your goals, so you don’t overload yourself. Along with being mindful, always be kind to yourself and remind yourself that you are already doing the best you can and there’s no need to overdo it. Try keeping a mood journal to track how you feel and respond on a day-to-day basis.


There is nothing wrong with enjoying the feeling that comes with success. Ambition is a wonderful thing as it motivates us to grow, achieve and become better people. However, sometimes the drive for success can get too much and that’s when you need to take a step back and consciously adjust your state of mind. Don’t forget about the smaller joys in life!