Ambition and its many faces

Alice Bustos-Orosa

Alice Bustos-Orosa

How many people have fallen into the folly of thinking that ambition is the be-all and end-all of one’s existence? Even in Shakespeare’s tragedies, we’ve seen how ambition drives men mad. Over the years, even as children, you would have met someone who seemed to be the epitome of ambition. In fact, you may have met someone you’d only describe as ambitious, driven, or even pushy.

It was good advice I heeded that while looking for my first job, my family told me not to go where my friends went. Alas, I soon learned that for some friends who decided to work together, once someone seems to be getting more attention, an erstwhile friend can become your foremost rival for the next promotion. How competition can break friendships apart, indeed!

In high school, each batch had its Miss Overachiever, one who seemed to be picking all the plum roles in school. From class president to grand winner in all sorts of school competitions, be it the Spelling Bee, Quiz Bee, Declamation, Debate, or even Glee Club, she grabs them all. Then, by the time graduation comes, Miss Overachiever goes up on stage as Valedictorian, donning all the possible gold medals the school grants. Sometimes, if lucky, Miss Overachiever is also the well-loved popular smart girl and the teacher’s pet. But for the most part, she is quite elusive to many of her peers, even seemingly slightly older, more mature than everyone else.

It’s probably in the work place though and in our professional lives that ambition seems most palpable. Often, you meet Miss Career Tracker—whose natural air exudes an attitude of “I know better than you” or that of “Who do you think you are? In large gatherings, this is the individual who simply has to stand up to take the microphone and to comment needlessly. Craving for the limelight, Miss Career Tracker takes center stage whenever she can. It’s unfortunate to work alongside Miss Career Tracker who often takes credit for success and picks everyone’s brains for ideas, then passes these off as hers. At meetings, she speaks her mind, without being asked. The butt of office gossip, Miss Career Tracker doesn’t really give a damn about what people think. Even more, she definitely knows whom to patronize to move up the corporate ladder.

Then there’s the Mr. All Talk but No Results Guy in the Office—one who is especially outspoken during meetings but never delivers on assigned work. He’s the colleague who knows how to impress the boss, but never gains the respect of his co-workers because of his lack of organization or diligence at work. It can be quite frustrating to have Mr. All Talk work in a team as he slacks off when the going gets tough.

I’ve often felt uneasy around people who wear ambition on their sleeves so visibly. I suppose for many Filipinos, we perceive it to be quite arrogant to meet someone who acts and seems so obviously consumed by ambition. This, no matter how smart, educated, or competent you are. In fact, in many studies on Filipino culture, it is noted that the self-effacing attitude of most Filipinos behooves the notion of ambition. We generally respect people who are more unassuming, even self-deprecating to a fault. And oddly, we admire those who are more modest about one’s achievements.

I do concede though that for one to grow professionally and to ward off complacency, one needs a little dose of ambition. Maybe, the tricky part is striking the perfect balance between being ambitious yet humble, driven yet kind, or determined yet modest. After all, success and fame are but fleeting and ephemeral, and relationships built more lasting.


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