The Dark Side Of Ambition

Ambition is a good thing, right? It helps us achieve our goals and gives us purpose. All good stuff.

Except until it isn’t.

I’ve always considered myself to be ambitious. I’m driven and determined–some might say stubborn. And I’ve always taken pride in these traits. I get things done.

But lately I’ve been noticing the dark side of ambition. I can’t speak for anyone but myself; maybe results vary. But in my case the dark side has been outweighing all that good stuff.

I take on too much.

It’s something I’ve pondered on those nights when I’m rushing to get something done before I go to bed. But I’ve never taken it seriously. I usually end up giving myself the Get-Your-Shit-Together speech instead of actually stopping to see if there was merit in those thoughts.

And then September hit and I wrote out my goals for the month. The list was ten items long–most of which were either labour intensive or time intensive. I showed the list to Brandon and he very politely said NOPE, that was too much.

My initial instinct was to yell OH YEAH? JUST WATCH ME! But after a moment’s pause I realized that he was right. It was too much. WAAAAY too much. And since I value his opinion over all others, I set aside my stubbornness to listen to his reasoning.

It was solid. Of course it was, he’s good people.

He reminded me that I was still learning my new job. And that I was also studying for an intensive 10-week course for work. That alone was more than enough.

But was it?

I had carefully scheduled every minute of every day so that I could accomplish these goals. But you see the thing I always forget is that life doesn’t usually go to plan. Haha, it hardly ever does.

I always fail to factor in the unexpected, sometimes the expected too.

There’s laundry to do and aquariums to clean, family to see, friends to catch up with, groceries to buy, meals to cook, and don’t forget that pesky fall cold that keeps you on the sofa for days. A full time job, the course I’m taking, and all the hours I spend on the bus because I don’t own a car. I actually wrote this post on the bus ride to work.

There’s always something. Usually a lot of somethings. Despite my best intentions, and my best laid plans, I always fail to accomplish everything. But that’s not even the dark side. The dark side is so much worse because it’s sneaky.

Let’s say I set five goals for the month and I end up accomplishing three. That’s pretty great, right?


I came up short and failed on two aspects. And THAT, my friend, is the dark side.

Our brains tell us that those things we accomplished are meaningless. Our brains – or at least my brain- wants it to be all or nothing. There is no grey in my goal accomplishing world. I either do it all or I’ve failed.

It’s not a true statement. It’s ridiculous and unfair but I can’t seem to break that thought pattern. It’s my dark side of ambition. Maybe it’s yours too.

At the beginning of this year I set myself seven broad goals. It’s October and I’ve accomplished two: I published my novel and I’ve read 30 books. I should be happy and proud. Those are two really big goals, especially the publishing one.

But every time I look at my list, I see the five goals I won’t finish. Four of them I haven’t even started. And as much as I am proud of that book getting published, I can’t stop thinking that I should have done more.

More, more, more.

But at what cost? My health? My relationships? My sanity? It’s never enough and it’s a sign of a larger problem with society, because I refuse to believe I’m alone in this thought pattern. Otherwise we wouldn’t have portable devices to work on with zillions of productivity software. You can schedule every minute of every day but is that what we even want? Think of all the things we miss in the pursuit of perfection.

Maybe it all comes back to balance. Not setting ourselves up for failure by not taking on so many things. Realizing that it’s okay to not be scheduled so heavily we forget to relax–forget to interact with people. It’s cliche but when did you last stop to smell the roses? Or maybe you did smell them because you had rose smelling scheduled in from 4:15 to 4:16.

Maybe I’m just jaded. Or overwhelmed. Or old and crotchety and need more downtime.

Whenever I feel like I’ve already done too much I think of that scene from a Friends when Phoebe is birthing the triplets.

The doctor is all — Okay are you ready to push again?

And Phoebe is all — Ugh, I already had a baby, leave me alone!

That’s me arguing with myself ALL. THE. TIME. Too much pushing leaves me exhausted.

So what am I doing about this dark side of ambition? I’m practicing patience, and enoughness–which is totally NOT a word but it’s my post and I’ll make up words if I want to! I’m trying to remind myself to celebrate my achievements without emphasizing my shortcomings. I’m trying to take on less. It’s not easy, in fact it’s downright hard but it needs to be done.

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