When it comes to making the choice of whether to pursue humility or ambition, there really is no right answer. But there is an answer that is better suited to your life goals. You may find that unfettered ambition is the quality that will land you that executive job. Or you may find that humility better suits your charitable goals.
You may even find that you fluctuate between qualities as needed, that they aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. But without one right choice, it’s up to you to read each individual situation and choose an appropriate strategy.
You’ve got more doors open than you realize
A lot of opportunities get missed when you think they aren’t viable options. The key to unlocking them? Ambition. Sometimes it needn’t take more than a simple ambitious ask, like for a promotion or a raise, or asking someone out on a date.
Of course, asks should be tactful and adjusted for the existing status of relationship between two parties. For example, asking a friend out on a date might be different than asking a stranger. You could take the humbler approach of waiting for these opportunities to be offered to you, but there’s no guarantee and you’ll probably be waiting a while. So take action and ask for it. The worst that could happen is that you hear ‘no.’
“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” – Steve Jobs
One quality can lend itself to myriad qualities
On the ambition side, you open yourself up to acquiring and fostering a range of other qualities that will help you fulfill your life’s journey to the fullest. Perseverance is perhaps the most useful quality to pair with ambition, as ambition does not guarantee success. It takes perseverance, that potent combination of grit and resilience.
Perseverance is what will compel your ambition to carry on in the face of adversity, bringing it to a victory or illuminating another path to success. Humility can be a helpful trait as well, lending itself to the development of altruism and effective relationship building.
A means to an end may surprise you
Reaching your goals is a more complex matter than using ambitious tactics for monumental outcomes, or humble tactics for greater good outcomes. Ambitious people can benefit from the qualities in congruence with humility, as relationships are an important component of realising success.
Without knowing how to navigate relationships with compassion, understanding, and selflessness, you are bound to burn bridges. Likewise, humble people can benefit from adopting characteristics of ambition to their life journey, like applying ambition to altruistic goals. Using ambitious measures, a typically humble person can accomplish things like charitable fundraising and expanding the scope of a project.
The stuff of good and great leaders
Arguably, good leaders possess some degree of humility and/or ambition. But great leaders have both in spades. Ambition lends itself to vision and drive, while humility builds compassion and reflection in a leader. Both qualities are capable of garnering respect and admiration from peers, friends, and colleagues alike.
Great leaders also know when to channel one quality over the other depending on circumstances, but never forgetting where to draw the line. Blind ambition doesn’t always bode well for leadership, as it may end up causing more harm than good. But blind humility doesn’t fare well either, as it may give the perception that a leader is weak or not discerning enough.
“I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep; I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion.” – Alexander the Great
By now you may have realized which one of these two admirable qualities you should follow in order to achieve the goals you set along the journey of life, broadly-speaking. Perhaps it is one or the other, or perhaps you’ve chosen to adopt an ambiguous usage of the two. It’s no coincidence that both qualities are also, in their own ways, qualities of mentally tough people. And there’s a lot to be said for mental toughness on life’s journey.
But no matter which quality you choose to focus on, rest assured that if it isn’t facilitating your journey, you can change it. You aren’t locked into any one way. So long as you take the time to occasionally reflect on your methods, you will be able to navigate the waters of your life’s journey and to roll with the inevitable setbacks.