It wouldn't be hard to find a high school junior at a place like Scarsdale Senior High School or Harvard-Westlake who would admit (off the record!) that they would kill to get into an Ivy League school. But would they be willing to die?
A new study on ambition in this month's Journal for Applied Psychology, suggests that they might have to be. When Timothy A. Judge of Notre Dame and John Kammeyer-Mueller of Business University of Florida looked at the impact of striving on the life outcomes of 717 Americans, they found a troubling trend. The ambitious ones -- defined by responses to questions about life attitude -- tend to die young. What's more, they aren't even happy during their short lives.
Many ambitious youngsters in the study did end up going to selective universities and having high-prestige jobs. But neither educational achievement nor career success led to much greater life satisfaction.
The ones who fared worst in the study were ambitious underachievers. They shared the mediocre happiness scores of their higher-achieving, equally-ambitious peers -- but tended to have much higher rates of mortality. In other words: wasting a Yale degree on a low-prestige, low-income job is a surefire recipe for an early grave.
But high schoolers, before you take use this study as an excuse to watch another episode of "Breaking Bad" instead of doing your AP Chem homework, you should know that it was the product of research on 717 Americans born around the start of World War I.
"The advantage of this study -– that it followed the lives and careers of a unique sample of individuals over the better part of the 20th century –- is also a significant limitation," the authors admit in the study. "Specifically, the sample was comprised of intelligent individuals initially raised in California whose working careers peaked a half century ago. Thus, it is difficult to know whether the findings observed here generalize to other samples of individuals."
So if you're a not-so-intelligent individual initially raised in New Jersey, or a brilliant individual initially raised in Doha, you might want to take Judge and Kammeyer-Mueller's conclusions with a grain of salt. But Los Angelenos? We don't need to tell you guys how good "Breaking Bad" season 4 is.