We are in the daily race for higher objectives and strive to over-achieve. Ambition is good, but is sometimes overshadows what we truly aspire to. Aspiration is related to our deeper desire. The closer we get to our aspired state the more fulfillment we experience. We should be careful not to miss this in the rush. That article might help to connect to what we truly aspire to.
What is the difference between Aspiration and ambition?
Let’s first look at what they have in common. As a matter of fact, these two terms are sometimes used as synonyms because both terms speak about a projection into the future. They designate a state that we wish to reach in the future.
In both cases there is action and energy that is associated to this desire. There is a motivation to take the necessary actions to achieve that future state. Be it to reach a certain physical performance in sports, to reach certain material goals, a business performance or career objectives. As such, both ambition and aspiration are positive.
But I believe that there is a fundamental difference between these two drivers. It is the source of the energy. Aspiration is based on our deep desire. It is like an inner force that pulls us to aim for higher goals. It is more deeply connected to who we are. Connecting to our deep desire will help us understand even better what we truly aspire to (see my video on How to connect to my deep desire) Reaching these goals will provide us with fulfillment, meaning and true satisfaction.
It will actually allow us to bring the best of ourselves fully to the surface because the closer we get to the state that we aspire to the more we are leveraging on our talents and strength. We operate in the space that is “our space”. This could in an ideal case get us closer to what the Greeks have called ataraxia. The absence of desire. The state of fulfillment where nothing more is needed. This will allow us to be serene and generous.
The associations related to ambition are slightly different. The starting point of an ambition is usually more competitive. It is what I will reach versus the other. It is related to standards and over passing these standards. It is related to performance and over-performance.
The motivation is less a deeply intrinsic one, but one that is stimulated by a certain situation or context. Very often certain external factors may stimulate our will to win. For example if there is an audience who is watching. Ambition is largely a performance in the eyes of others. It is usually quite visible.
We see here the difference to aspiration, which is more something we achieve for ourselves. It might go unnoticed for the others. They might simply see a greater happiness or serenity but not perceive what is triggering this. In the case of an ambition to objectives are usually clear and over passing they is the declared goal.
Now there is of course nothing wrong with ambition. In sports for example this has tremendous virtues. It is thanks to the encouragement of others that athletes beat the records. There is a real symbiosis between the football players and the fans in the stadium.
But if our energy has this as its main source, the fulfillment may not be reached for two reasons: either the ambition goes for always more. You have hardly reached one objective or beaten one record when already to want more and so on and so forth.
The other reason is that once you have reached the ultimate goal there is nothing more to aspire to and you might fall into an empty hole. What am I going to do now that there is no objective anymore to run towards? Ambition is an energy that vanishes once the goal is reached. Aspiration in the contrary is an energy that is sustainable once the desire state has been reached.
I believe that this has quite important implications for all of us. We should of course have a healthy dose or ambition. But we should be careful not to get trapped in our ambition and to lose sight of our true aspiration. As a matter of fact, it requires some efforts to connect back to what we truly aspire to. We should be careful not to miss this in the rush of things….
More information in my book:
Sven Sommerlatte : Successful Career Strategy – An HR Practitioner’s Guide to Reach Your Dream Job (Springer, June 2023). ISBN: 978-3-662-66790-3