A Discussion of Professional Ambition

In our modern world, our basic material needs are often met easily. Especially for those which were fortunate enough to obtain a good education. It thus puzzles me why people are often so ambitious in their work.

I don’t want to be misunderstood. For me, working hard and trying our best are treasured values. What puzzles me about peoples’ ambition is not so much that they work hard but what for.

For me, work has a spiritual meaning. I believe that through our labours we can give back to the world which bestowed us with existence. If we are fortunate enough to have talents and skills, we can use them to benefit those among us less fortunate.

However, I don’t think that this is what motivates most ambitious people. I think we have been programmed with a base desire to want what other people have. If there is a step up from your current position and it is held by someone you interact with (and you are theoretically qualified for the position), it is just natural that we would want this position for ourselves. If there are others with more formal power than us, we would want this formal power as well. And who wouldn’t want to be payed equally as much as those earning more.

What does not make sense to me is that if you ask almost anyone what is most important in their lives, they will say that it is their own happiness and the well-being of their family. Accepting a more senior or better paid role often comes at the cost of additional stress and time commitments – neither of which aid in achieving happiness for ourselves or our families. Moreover, once we have attained our goal of finding a better role, we will quickly find a role even more desirable and our joy of accomplishment is set out to be brief – and this is in the event of success; if we fail to attain our goal, we are sure to be miserable, being constantly reminded of our own shortcomings and the general unfairness of the world.

Seeking promotions and advancements follows a pattern which can often be observed when studying our own species. If left to our own devices, we make choices which are against our own best interests (or at least against what we have identified as being important for us).

I think it is important to be aware of these shortcomings of our mind. Often, we do not need a promotion. We do not need to keep a job which brings us nothing but misery. It is our animal desire for prestige and power which drives us to seek that which is not good for us. It is our animal programming to follow the example of those around us. Overcoming our desire and tendency to follow social norms is not easy. We need to be mindful, of a strong mind and full of confidence to follow the path to true happiness and goodness for ourselves and others.

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