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What To Do When Your Ambition Becomes Unhealthy

You know that feeling of not being good enough? That feeling that you need to be more and do more? It’s not the greatest feeling in the world. You feel inadequate. You feel incapable. You feel like you’re less of a person than everyone else. You might feel embarrassed.

What are you supposed to do when that happens? We’re told to follow our dreams, find our passions, reach for the sky, but what happens when that becomes unhealthy?

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You might feel this way because you’re training for a competition but you’ve plateaued and haven’t been able to break through. Or you got your exam results back and you scored below the curve. Or maybe you don’t feel good enough for the person you’re dating. Maybe you’re applying for jobs and feel unqualified for everything you see.

It sucks.

It sucks because you’re working hard to break through your plateau, to score better on your exam, to be a better person for your partner, to study so that you can get those jobs.

But ambition gets the best of you and you just don’t feel “good enough.”

I know that feeling. I used to get it almost everyday. I still get it from time to time.

The feeling of being inadequate would persist whether or not I had a girlfriend. Whether or not I had a job. Alone or in a group of friends. Even when I was making the effort to learn and become better, I’d still feel like I wasn’t getting better.

The Reality of Successful People

Tim Ferris explains the myth of “successful” people, that we–me, you and everyone around us–all like to look “successful.”  Which leads to a fatal conclusion made by the majority of people:

Well… maybe they [entrepreneur/artist/creator painted as superhero] can do it, but I’m just a normal guy/girl…

I’m not going to compare myself to Tim Ferris, but I consider myself ambitious and I’ve found that it’s easy for people to view ambitious individuals with rose-colored glasses. As if everything is okay, things are always going great, life is always wonderful. These people are always striving for more with a smile on their faces.

In reality, ambition plays a large role in depression. “Ruthless ambition” often leads to feeling little sense of pride in accomplishments and results in low-self esteem. The case is worse if ambition is fueled by extrinsic factors rather than an intrinsic desire to become better.

When faced with bouts of depression in the past, I often threw myself deeper into my work, eager to improve and become better. This made everything seem better. Friends saw how focused I was. I produced writing that people liked. I’d work on multiple projects at once. Then I realized it was all just a mask for my own fears. My fears of not being good enough, of not being successful, of not becoming the person I want to be.

In that fear, I did what I thought was logical.

Work harder.

Contentment and Ambition

When you’re ambitious, it may seem to logically follow that you aren’t content with where you are in life, with what you have or with what you can do. You want to do more, have more, be more. Ambition is often viewed as the opposite of being content.

However, the mindset often leads to low self-esteem. It would be more healthy to view both contentment and ambition as complementary. You can be happy with where you’re at, but still strive for more. Simple, right?

It’s normal to feel overwhelmed and stressed out by the future and all the things you want to do. We all have a natural desire to be better and it keeps us on our feet.

Entrepreneurs and ambitious people in general will go through an emotional roller coaster at all times in their lives. It’s a long ride.

The key is to enjoy the ride instead of fighting it. Be mindful of the lows, but don’t let it get you down. Enjoy the highs, but don’t expect it to last forever.

While there’s always going to be a lingering feeling of self doubt, once you learn to practice contentment and avoid judging yourself, you’ll find that you will continue to achieve more but without the stress.

“When we plant a rose seed in the earth, we notice that it is small, but we do not criticize it as “rootless and stemless.” We treat it as a seed, giving it the water and nourishment required of a seed. When it first shoots up out of the earth, we don’t condemn it as immature and underdeveloped; nor do we criticize the buds for not being open when they appear. We stand in wonder at the process taking place and give the plant the care it needs at each stage of its development. The rose is a rose from the time it is a seed to the time it dies. Within it, at all times, it contains its whole potential. It seems to be constantly in the process of change; yet at each state, at each moment, it is perfectly all right as it is.” —Timothy Gallwey

Moving Forward

While it’s good to have ambition, I’d argue it’s more important to maintain your mental and emotional health. Without those two taken care of, you won’t have the energy to carry out your ambitious plans. Be aware if your ambition is getting the best of you and having negative effects on your health.

I have friends who’ve made the mistake of overworking themselves (I’m guilty of this as well), losing sleep, not eating, because we were so caught up chasing after our ideas of success and, as a result, were eaten up by ambition.

Be content while ambitions. Where you are is a great place to be. Enjoy it a little bit.

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  • Thanks for including my post in this one! How do you go about striking a balance and identifying when you start to veer off?

    • Hi Poornima! It’s an honor to have you visit my blog! I love your work.

      I’ve realized that balance is an active pursuit, not something that, once achieved, is easily maintained. One way I look at it is adapting to the situation. If I notice that I’ve been relentless in my pursuits and haven’t taken any time to myself, I’ll honestly let myself binge watch Netflix a bit, or go out with some friends.

      A few symptoms that tell me I’m veering off include:

      – feeling extremely tired
      – lack of excitement
      – feeling of loneliness

      Of course, those are situations where I might’ve more than veered off, but really need to take a step back.

      I’m curious how you manage to find that balance amongst all your pursuits!

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