Why You Shouldn't Be Too Ambitious

ambition at workIn an age of job insecurity, does ambition even pay off? Indeed, the wealth gap shows that even if you get a job, your wage is likely to have little mobility. (This chart, "You Have Nothing To Lose But Your Gains," provided by Mother Jones, shows that the average income of the top 1 percent has grown 240 percent since 1979, while the national average has remained stagnant.)

It may not be worth all the trouble making it into that high earning percentile, says one new study. Timothy Judge, a professor of management at the University of Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business, has penned the article, "On the Value of Aiming High: The Causes and Consequences of Ambition." Appearing in the May issue of the influential Journal of Applied Psychology, it concludes that as much as ambition is a virtue, it must also be recognized as a vice.

"If ambition has its positive effects, and in terms of career success it certainly seems that it does, our study also suggests that it carries with it some cost," he writes, according to an article by Eureka Alert. "Despite their many accomplishments, ambitious people are only slightly happier than their less-ambitious counterparts, and they actually live somewhat shorter lives."

The article draws on a longitudinal study of 717 "high-ability" individuals. The study followed them for over seven decades. The metric for "high-ability" changed over the course of the life span, and included educational as well as career accomplishments.

While the study confirms that hard work does lead to material success, the article also says ambition's correspondence with life fulfillment is no guarantee. "[W]e determined that ambition has a much weaker effect on life satisfaction and actually a slightly negative impact on longevity (how long people lived). So, yes, ambitious people do achieve more successful careers, but that doesn't seem to translate into leading happier or healthier lives," the article notes, according to a post on Jezebel.

While the full article will provide fuller data points, the findings add credence to existing research on the correlation between lifestyle and actual physical ailments. One such study, conducted by Sheldon Cohen, and reported on in Archives of Internal Medicine, found that found that individuals who slept less than seven hours per night were three times as likely to get sick. (Reduced sleep can of course be caused by many things in addition to an intense work schedule.)

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