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Humility Or Ambition: Which One To Follow In Your Life’s Journey

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Balance

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.

Which one are you currently following? Humility or Ambition? Leave your thoughts below!

Elizabeth Lee is a business blogger, currently writing for PACK & SEND - experts in the field of transportation. Elizabeth is genuinely interested in personal growth, constantly reading self-improvement books and listening to motivational videos.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Ewen Munro

    Nov 23, 2016 at 8:38 am

    Very good article. It comes to a balance much like everything in life. If there’s humility without ambition then most likely nothing gets done and if there’s ambition without humility then most likely everyone around you will be put off. My advice: find your balance. 😉 #keepgrowing #keepcreating

  2. James Liebke

    Nov 22, 2016 at 12:19 am

    what a great article. i am trying to be both ambitous and humble finding some success trying to balance the two out. its a long road to freedom.

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What Les Misérables Taught Me About Our Values

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Who am I? The ultimate question many of us try to answer. When I think of values, I think of Victor Hugo’s 1862 book, “Les’ Miserables”. In Hugo’s book, Jean Valjean, is used as a protagonist to highlight the power in redemptive love and compassion. Valjean goes into prison for stealing a loaf of bread, entering as a simple and decent man. His time in jail seems to have an unrepairable effect, where he emerges from the chain gang as a tough, bitter criminal who hates society for what it has done to him. (more…)

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7 Ways You Can Increase Your Concentration Right Away

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In today’s world, an overabundance of information and a large number of distractions is making it increasingly difficult to concentrate on performing the necessary tasks. In this article, I propose 7 simple methods that will train your ability to concentrate, while not taking you from your usual activities. (more…)

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5 Simple Hacks to Help You Develop the Habit That Will Transform Your Life

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Why Do We Have An Unconscious Bias and How Can We Manage It?

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When I hear someone using my name once in a while throughout the conversation we are having, I cannot stop myself thinking “this person must have read Dale Carnegie’s books or must have been influenced by someone who read them…” Have you just recalled a similar moment and it felt nice?

As Dale Carnegie famously said, “Remember that a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and the most important sound in any language”. Why did Dale Carnegie highlight the importance of an individual’s name to that person in his “How to Win Friends and Influence People” book published in 1936?

Each and every one of us wants to feel special and unique. I guess he recommends using the person’s name in the conversation because that is one of the easiest ways to grab that person’s attention so that we can enhance the chances of getting our point across. However, I am more interested in this from the other side; hearing our names directly addresses our individuality, our need or desire to feel special and unique.  

Let’s park this one for now and we will come back. 

Categorization is essential to our survival

There is countless scientific research telling us about how our brains recognize similarities and put things into categories, which has been crucial to our survival in evolution and still helps us with a lot of things from learning new things to coping with the continuous influx of massive amounts of information through our senses. 

The continuous influx of information is mostly handled by our subconscious mind rather than conscious. It is estimated that our brains receive about 11 million bits of information every second through our senses, of which only 40-50 bits can be processed by our conscious mind. We process more information than we are aware of. The magic here is the subconscious mind.

An example is when you are at a very loud party where you hear a lot of words flying around without you recognizing each one of them, then suddenly, you immediately catch it when you hear your name. Your subconscious had been processing all of those words, without your awareness, but informed your conscious mind when your name was out there because it was relevant to you.

In order to most effectively process this much information and inform the conscious mind with only the relevant ones, our subconscious employs categorization as one of its strategies.

When our ancestors encountered some deadly predators in the African savanna, their subconscious prompted their conscious mind to immediately fight or flight by categorizing the information gathered through their senses into “predator / life threat / take action”. Most probably we are not descendants of the ones that were frozen rather than fighting or flighting! 

Although it is a completely different situation, the same strategy applied in remembering lists. Let’s look at the below two lists.

  1. lion, eagle, shark, leopard, hawk, whale, panther, falcon and dolphin 
  2. lion, leopard, panther, eagle, hawk, falcon, shark, whale and dolphin

The second list is easy to remember because it is reordered into relevant groups even though the content of the both lists are identical.

Subconsciousness is the magic and categorization is one of its key strategies. It is essential to our survival, learning new skills and processing information as well as bringing back the information we had processed and stored. 

This amazing skill has its drawbacks

As a result of our brains’ categorization strategy, we also categorize people, especially if we don’t know them as well as our closest ones.

Imagine I am sitting at the table next to yours while you are having your favorite coffee and working on your computer or reading your novel at your neighborhood coffee shop. I stand up, very calmly grab your bag, and start walking away. Your reaction might be quite different depending on my outfit. It could be much more vocal and harsh if I have a dirty T-Shirt and a pair of torn jeans on. However, if I have some navy colored, 3-piece suit and well-pressed white button up shirt on, you might even say something like “Excuse me, you might have picked up my bag by mistake”. (There is an experiment done by social psychologists which reported similar results)

Similarly, I would not be surprised to hear that my co-worker’s spouse is very skilled and knowledgeable in English grammar and literature because he is an English teacher. However, I would not expect it from my co-worker herself because she is an outstanding chemical engineer.  

This is defined as unconscious bias or stereotyping, as a result of our subconscious brain’s categorization strategy. The outfit I have at the coffee shop impacts your response to my action, because it puts me into a different category in your mind depending on my outfit. My co-worker’s and her spouse’s backgrounds make me put them into different categories, which might mislead me sometimes.

Just like we categorize things, it is very natural that we categorize people.  

The key question here for me is; how do we truly treat people as individuals so that they feel unique, just like as they would want, while we know that our brains categorize people

We can overcome unconscious bias 

Leonard Mlodinow, in his enlightening book “Subliminal”, suggests that “if we are aware of our bias and motivated to overcome it, we can.” That doesn’t mean that we need to fight our brain’s categorization strategy. We just need to employ our conscious mind more when we are working or dealing with individuals. 

Our unconscious bias might tell us scientists are bunch of technical nerds who cannot understand abstract concepts that marketers are talking about or it might say that marketers are some daydreamers who need to be grounded by scientists to the real world all the time. I am an engineer and I love thinking in abstract terms and I worked with quite a lot of marketers who thought primarily in factual and concrete terms. 

Spending some effort to learn more about individuals will help overcome unconscious bias. Gathering more information and qualities about them will make it easier for us to treat them as individuals rather than a member of the category we put them in our minds. 

The moral of the story here is to recognize the fact that our brains do categorize, and it is essential; but also, to recognize that every individual wants to feel unique. When we appreciate these two and keep reminding them to ourselves, we are one step closer to figuring out our own way to overcome unconscious bias and treat people more like individuals. 

What was the most interesting part of this article for you? Share your thoughts below!

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