Ambition and Contentment: Can they co-exist?

I would like to unpack two words that have been a topic of discussion with the people closest to me: Ambition and Contentment. In a world where we are taught to push for the limits and never give up on our ambitions, I have been placed in a position to consider contentment just as important. Still the question was posed to me: Can they co-exist? So I went ahead and looked up the definition of both.
Ambition
a strong desire to do or to achieve something, typically requiring determination and hard work.
a desire and determination to achieve success.
Contentment
a state of happiness and satisfaction.
When I read the description for both words I noticed something obvious: they are not antinomies; meaning that one doesn’t negate the other. And as I looked inward I found that to be true. I mean, I’m pretty ambitious but I’ve often found myself content with life. Ultimately, anyone can live with both ambition and contentment but it is a balancing act and it is not always easy. I believe the best way to balance both is to first check, Where am I headed?
 
How do you define success?
This can be an intriguing question. Defining success can be a challenge and it is shaped differently for each person. Still, understanding what success looks like allows me to know where I’m headed. It’s a reminder to check the map; to review intentions; to see if my actions are getting me closer to where I want to be. This is true for an individual or an organization. At work we create mission statements and visions. We should do the same individually and with our families. Where we want to be is just as important as how we get there. Defining success for yourself is a good start!
 
Ambition…
I look at ambition as fuel. Fuel, ideas running through my mind at odd hours of the night, hopeful to see my project come to fruition. But it is also what reminds me to reconnect with my family and build memories that last. It all depends on your goals for life. Ambition is healthy when based on pure motives. Ambition is not greed. Ambition is a never-ceasing attitude that helps you achieve your goals.
Contentment…
I see contentment as a mile marker. These are checkpoints that remind you of how far you’ve come. It’s a great way to check on the progress you’ve made. Like ambition, contentment is an attitude connected with your motives. Contentment is not apathy. Contentment smiles back at you, sometimes reminding you that your goals don’t need to match that of others.
The answer
I believe both ambition and contentment can co-exist. I’m ambitious to grow in my career, but I’m content with how I’ve been impactful in each of my professional roles. I’m ambitious to provide financially for my family, but I’m content with how I’ve contributed to meet their needs.
I don’t want people to think this is easy because it is not. So many times I kick myself because I want more out of life: a bigger house, a nicer car, more money. I don’t think I’m alone with these feelings. Still, what I’ve noticed is that these feelings only come up when I compare myself with others. Their house. Their car. This is where contentment can ground us. In many cases it provides a reality check.
 
I consider contentment to be fundamental in recognizing the blessings around me. It is that mile marker that allows me to recognize how far along I’ve come in my journey. And success for me is being a leader at work and present at home. So I might not always boast the largest paycheck. In choosing to be present I’m fulfilling something that money can’t buy; spiritual and emotional leadership for my family.
What do you think? Can ambition and contentment co-exist?
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9 thoughts on “Ambition and Contentment: Can they co-exist?

  1. A thought provoking well written article. In particular, I like the fuel and mile marker analogies. When you get a little older your very thankful for any gas you got in the tank and when you wake up and see you are at the next milepost you are amazed!

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    1. Thanks for the comment. The analogy helped me as I see our lives as a journey (thus the picture I used for the post image). Much of these thoughts have evolved from our conversations so you know you have a part in this.

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  2. What you have to remember is being ambitious isn’t always about being “successful”. Now any time you reach your goal, your ambition, that is a success in itself. Ambition to help people, ambition to see it from someone else’s eyes, etc. being ambitious doesn’t necessarily mean that you want the bigger house or better car to measure it. With that being said. Yea, they can coexist. You can be ambitious about one aspect of your life looking to grow (in a relationship or anything) and be perfectly content about everything else. Now, if you’re talking about the same thing (content with my job, ambitious to do more) I don’t believe they coexist. Being content while still being ambitious only slows you down in my opinion. It’s also past my bedtime and I’m really tired, so I’m not too sure that this whole comment makes sense haha.

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    1. Thanks for your comment Stephen! It is hard to conjugate both but I believe they can co-exist.

      I appreciate your challenge on not being able to be ambitious and content at the same time when we talk about work but it all depends on what we honor. I’ve heard it said that you can either have time or money and rarely do you have both at the same time. This is a tough reality to accept but I see it in my own family as I try to provide financially by being at work while also needing to be present to lead. I think it gets challenging as we compartmentalize our life and allow certain things to fall outside of our initial purposes.

      I really appreciate you giving it a thought and being conscious of how you see it display in your life. Ultimately I’m glad it challenged you as much as it has challenged me.

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  3. I like your idea. It is very challenging to operate with both an attitude of ambition and contentment in this world today. Mainly because so many people are either in one category or the other. The ambitious-only folks will do whatever it takes to get to the next step, right or wrong. The content-only folks are usually ones that simply want to stay in their corner of their office\world and don’t want to jeopardize their situation for anything or anyone.

    I think you hit the nail on the head though for someone who strives for proper balance. Maybe another way to put it is that each of the things we do or care about fall into the contentment or ambition bucket. A project at work…..Ambition. Enjoying our family…..Contentment. Saving for college for family….. Ambition. Reviewing your resume to see how far you’ve come (by the grace of God and so many that have helped you)….. Contentment. It’s definitely a neat topic to think about.

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    1. Thanks for your comment Barron! I know you seek that same balance but in today’s world it is hard to get. From my perspective, having lived in two cultures that display ambition and contentment differently, I believe they can and need to co-exist. In fact, I think God wants us to engage in activities that display both attributes. Just look at Jesus: ambitious to fulfill His role of Savior but content to to follow the will of the Father.

      So while I believe that you were right that both ambition and contentment can fall in different buckets, they need to be seen under the same light as they impact each other. Going back to the example of my family, when I let my ambition run wild that is when I lose the sense of contentment I have for what I have provided for my family. We all want more but more is not always the answer.

      Thanks again for sharing your thoughts. I appreciate it!

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  4. Where the world teaches us to go all out to be the best, to have a bigger house, a fancier car, a larger paycheck than our neighbor, the Bible teaches us the opposite: “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself” (Philippians 2:3). The apostle Paul tells us, “Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him” (2 Corinthians 5:9 NASB). The Greek word for “ambition,”philotim, means literally “to esteem as an honor.” Being ambitious, in and of itself, is not wrong, it’s what we esteem or honor that can be a problem. The Bible teaches that we should be ambitious, yet the objective is to be accepted by Christ, not by the world. Christ taught us that to be first in the Kingdom is to become a servant (Matthew 20:26-28;Matthew 23:11-12).

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