Ambition can devastate or inspire, depending on how you handle it

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]This month’s “Wall Street Journal Magazine” Soapbox asked six well-known and successful celebrity faces to voice their opinions on ambition. The article appealed to me at a glance because, as a young college student, I am always looking for the advice and guidance of those more experienced and successful than myself, regardless of background or profession. So, this week I thought I’d take a look at some of their ideas about modern ambition and how they relate to and are applied by my peers.


Actor and director Kenneth Branagh, a famous English Shakespearian, contrasted ambition’s positives with the negatives conveyed in Macbeth. In the play, Lady Macbeth describes ambition as something that is unhealthy, causing unwarranted aggression and selfishness at the costs of others’ happiness and gain. But Branagh disagrees, arguing that ambition is capable of providing people with a purpose and a drive to accomplish something and that “it need not be ruthless.” One of my favorite lines in his response is that “ambition begets adventure, a process that teaches us that the journey is potentially more enjoyable than the arrival.” While there is a goal to be met, which is guided by the fire lit by ambitious behavior, the most profound lessons often come with the patience, dedication and hard work learned on the journey. Ambition is often what starts the most meaningful journeys.

It is interesting to me that two of the three women selected this month — Mary Boone, an art dealer and owner of Mary Boone Gallery, and Ivanka Trump, the executive vice president of development and acquisitions for the Trump Organization — brought up ambition in the context of female professionals. We live in a society where, until only recently, ambition was considered a negative and unsuitable characteristic for women. But when portrayed in men, it was viewed as a healthy sign of confidence. But women are now encouraged to show ambition and excitement for their professions, working alongside men at an equal standing and contributing more than ever before. Thanks to women like Boone and Trump, this mentality will only improve over time.

T.C. Boyle, an edgy young novelist and author of The Harder They Come, makes his case from a darker angle, while pairing with Branagh’s perception. Boyle argues that most people, especially novelists, are essentially inherently bad, and that everyone is “psychologically damaged.” As a whole, “We are not good people. We’re drug addicts, we’re drunks.” Yet we still seek some sort of adoration despite our intense flaws. Boyle talks about how work often ends up being the defining factor of who someone is. And without work and the ambition associated with it, people are generally unable to live happy and fulfilling lives, and many even fall to “the gun.” He understands the personal satisfaction and pleasure that comes with producing something valuable through effort and passion driven by ambition.

Ambition is arguably something that everyone needs. It lights the fire to pursue goals that will ultimately leave people with everlasting lessons, personal growth and experience that could not be attained without “thinking big” from the start. It gives people purpose and fulfillment, making life worth living.

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