The ambition that propels us to advance our own careers comes at the expense of community and well-being, according to a new study that has followed the lives and career outcomes of a group of gifted children since 1922. “The researchers found that the children who were the most conscientious (organized, disciplined, and goal-seeking), extroverted, and from a strong socioeconomic background were also the most ambitious. The ambitious members of the sample went on to become more educated and at more prestigious institutions than the less ambitious. They also made more money in the long run and secured more high-status jobs.”
What’s the Big Idea?
While ambition resulted in higher status and more material wealth, it has the possibility of decreasing overall well-being. Psychologist Tim Kasser has shown that an aggressive pursuit of material wealth like money, possessions and social status frequently results in personal distress. “My colleagues and I have found,” Kasser writes, “that when people believe materialistic values are important, they…have poorer interpersonal relationships [and] contribute less to the community.” Such people also tend to objectify others, using them as a meant to achieve career goals.
The impending catastrophe has been fueled by a skewed, institutionally enclosed rationality that is widespread within the business community; the basic principle is that short-term power and wealth are more important than human survival.