Ambition: Friend Or Foe?

It’s not a secret to our friends and family that Travis and I are both ambitious people. Once we get an idea into our heads, usually we attempt to do it. This has gotten us into trouble a few times (at one point we accidentally turned our white couch into a tie dyed mess instead of dying it two solid colors as we originally intended), but in general, ambition is something we want to pass on to our kids. I touched on the idea of what being a touch of fearless can add to your life in this post, but today I want to have a philosophical argument with myself about ambition, and you have a front row seat into my brain (I don’t know if that is a good or a bad thing…).

Even though I had a sprained ankle and it took 20 minutes of discussing to assure Ksena that getting in the raft was safe, our hour out on Lake Tahoe was definitely an opportunity I wouldn't have wanted to miss.

First off, we should probably agree on a definition of the word ambition:

Here is the definition of “ambition”


1. an earnest desire for some type of achievement or distinction, as power, honor, fame, or wealth, and the willingness to strive for its attainment.

2. the object, state, or result desired or sought after.

3. desire for work or activity; energy.

verb (used with object)

4. to seek after earnestly; aspire to.

For my personal purposes, since I try my best not to let pride, distinction, power, or fame anywhere near my life, I am going to go with the “strive for attainment” and “seek after earnestly” parts of this definition. To me, ambition is a word that means you are willing to work hard for something that you feel is worth while, even if you fail a few times along the way.

The Con Side of Ambition.

Obviously there are downsides to ambition. The best way to weed out which things you should be ambitious about is to think about the motive behind why you are trying achieve your current goal. Even if the motive is good, and the goal is good, you still have to be careful! You have to make sure the way that you go about attaining your goal is still worth whatever consequences come with the actions you find yourself taking in order to achieve your goal. Let’s use a travel illustration (since this is a travel blog after all):

You and your family are getting ready to drive for three hours to Gammy’s 80th birthday party. You and your spouse have both been waiting for months to catch up with your relatives, and you are even going to get to meet your newborn nephew for the first time since your brother and his wife are flying out for the party. As you excitedly wake up your children, you notice that one of them doesn’t want to wake up, looks flushed, and feels hot to the touch. At this point you have two choices, you can drug up your kid, shove them in the car, and expose your elderly grammy and newborn nephew to whatever your child has caught, or one of you adults can stay home while the rest of the family goes to the party. I think it’s pretty obvious by my choice of phrasing which option makes more sense. But in situations like this, peoples ambition to get what they want can easily take over, and soon you’ve made a huge mistake that not only isn’t the best parenting choice for your child, but could also effect the health of your relatives in a negative way.

In situations like this, ambition becomes selfish, and is definitely bad. Although the motive of wanting to see your family is good, the way you are accomplishing it by not allowing your sick child to rest and exposing the rest of your family members at the party to germs, is bad. But ambition isn’t always selfish, and it isn’t always bad.

The Pro Side of Ambition.

Let me start off by saying that pretty much anytime you are willing to inconvenience yourself (and yourself only, this isn’t involving your small children) to achieve someone else’s positive goal, ambition is good. Willingness to be ambitious to help others is something positive. Ambition can also be the tool that propels you to keep going and accomplish your goal even though you feel like giving up and walking away. Let’s look at another travel example of when ambition is a good thing:

You and your spouse want to take your kids hiking up to a waterfall that you both enjoyed hiking to while you were dating. It is a special place you want to share with them, and now that they are old enough to make it up the hill, you go ahead and plan your trip. The object of your ambition is for your entire family, including your 5 and 8 year olds to make it up to the waterfall. The motive is good because you want to share a special place with your family. Everything seems to be going well. You are prepared as a family. You all have sufficient water, snacks, bug spray, sunscreen, and comfy tennis shoes. But about halfway your 8 year old starts to complain that they are tired, and suddenly your 5 year old catches his exhaustion and they both start to whine. You think about your goal, your motive, and you still feel ambitious enough to try to get the family up the hill. This is where your situation can turn good or bad very quickly. How do you go about accomplishing your ambition at this point? You can threaten to ground your 8 year old for a month if they don’t knock it off, call them lazy, and leave them sitting on a rock while you carry your 5 year old and proceed without them (yikes! please don’t ever do something like this). Or (thank goodness!) you can explain why going to the waterfall means so much to you and your spouse, and encourage them that this is something you will all do together as a family, even if you have to slow down the pace, or take a few breaks. By being flexible and positive you can accomplish your goal in a way that benefits the entire family, and also teaches your 8 year old a lesson in perseverance.

So there you have it, two arguments and examples about ambition, something that has helped many traveling families accomplish great things, and has also turned family vacations into nightmares from the pit of hell. Remember these three questions, and you will know if ambition is your friend or foe:

1. What is your goal? Is it beneficial to your whole family?

2. What is your motivation in completing this goal?

3. Can you accomplish this goal in a positive way without hurting anyone in your family?

Happy Travels!



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