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Is Your Ambition Making You Stressed?

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You feel the desire -- to write the book. To start the business. To launch the nonprofit organization. To build that beautiful, unique home for yourself and your family. Whatever it is -- you feel called to create something remarkable in the world.

Sometimes you wonder, is my dream silly or grandiose? Is it selfishly ambitious?

My colleague, coach Lianne Raymond, has something brilliant to say about this.

She differentiates between actualization and ambition.

Actualization or Ambition?

Lianne writes that characteristics of ambition include:

  • the need to impress
  • status-seeking
  • pursuit of acclaim

Ambition is rooted in insecurity. What we do from a place of ambition tends to feel heavy and stressful, and leads to very short-lived satisfaction.

By contrast, characteristics of actualization include:

  • authenticity
  • vitality
  • playfulness
  • meaning

Lianne writes:

Actualization is an awkward word for the beautiful and somewhat mysterious essence in every human being and every living thing to grow into the fullest expression of itself. You see it in a flower that bends to the sun. You see it when a baby pushes herself up to take a tentative step, falls and does it all again, over and over until she is walking. I see it in my artist friend Sharon who says, "I have drawn and painted all my life. I can't not do it."


Lianne suggests that we ask ourselves, around any dream or goal, is this "originating from a place of actualization or ambition?"

I have been asking myself this all week:

  • Is the desire to offer this course coming from ambition or actualization?
  • Is the idea to partner with this person from from ambition or actualization?
  • Is the desire to write for that publication coming from ambition or actualization?

In asking this question, I've learned that when I'm doing something out of ambition -- out of a need to impress or achieve -- there is a stressed-out, compulsive undertone to my work. I'm rarely content or joyful.

When I'm doing my work out of the desire to self-actualize, there's a sense of delight and playfulness in my work. My ideas are also more creatively fresh and therefore more likely to lead to worldly success.

That's the paradox. Most of the time, and particularly for entrepreneurs, creatives, innovators, and leaders, worldly success comes from self-actualization, not ambition, because it's in self-actualizaiton that our wildly unique contributions come through.

I don't think our ambitions will save the world, but I do think our collective self-actualization will. As we actualize, we bring forth the incredible love and light within us -- and that is just what we need to bring sanity, compassion, and wisdom into the world.

You are brilliant. You are a divine creation. When the channel is unblocked and you are up to the work of actualization, amazing contributions will naturally flow forth from you into the world.

Bring this into action in your daily life:

1. As you move through your life this week, regularly ask yourself, "Am I being motivated by ambition or actualization in this task? Am I doing this out of a need to win, impress, or get recognition (ambition) or am I doing this out of a desire to create, play, and grow into a fuller expression of myself (actualization)?"

2. When you notice you are being driven by ambition, pause and take a few deep breaths. Notice your breath. Feel your feet on the earth, and take in the sights and sounds around you. Remember about actualization. Shift your intention to actualization.

Have you had an experience of doing something in a spirit of actualization? Please share in the comments.

Tara Sophia Mohr is an expert on women's leadership and wellbeing. She is the creator of the global Playing Big women's leadership program. Her work has been featured on The Today Show, CNN.com, Big Think, Ode Magazine and in numerous other publications. Click here to get her free guide, 10 Rules for Brilliant Women.

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