Overcoming Unbridled Aspiration and Ambition


In each of our lives, there are powerful restraining forces at work to pull down any new resolution or initiative. Among those forces are aspiration and ambition.

To overcome the restraining forces of unbridled aspiration and ambition, I resolve to dedicate my talents and resources to noble purposes and to provide service to others.

If people are "looking out for number one" and "what's in it for me," they will have no sense of stewardship, no sense of being an agent for worthy principles, purposes, and causes. They become a law unto themselves - a principal.

They may talk the language of stewardship, but they will always figure out a way to promote their own agenda. They may be dedicated and hard working, but they are not focused on stewardship - the idea that you don't own anything, that you give your life to higher principles, causes, purposes. Rather, they are focused on power, wealth, fame, position, dominion, and possessions.

The ethical person looks at every economic transaction as a test of his or her moral stewardship. That's why humility is the mother of all other virtues because it promotes stewardship. Then everything else that is good will work through you. But if you get into pride into "my will, my agenda, my wants" then you must rely totally upon your own strengths. You're not in touch with what Jung calls "the collective unconscious" the power of the larger ethos which unleashes energy through your work.

Aspiring people seek their own glory and are deeply concerned with their own agenda. They may even regard their own spouse or children as possessions and try to wrest from them the kind of behavior that will win them more popularity and esteem in the eyes of others. Such possessive love is destructive. Instead of being an agent or steward, they interpret everything in life in terms of "what it will do for me." Everybody then becomes either a competitor or conspirator. Their relationships, even intimate ones, tend to be competitive rather than cooperative. They use various methods of manipulation such as threat, fear, bribery, pressure, deceit, and charm to achieve their ends.

Until people have the spirit of service, they might say they love a companion, company or cause, but they often despise the demands these make on their lives. Double-mindedness, having two conflicting motives or interests, inevitably sets a man at war within himself and an internal civil war often breaks out into war with others. The opposite of double-mindedness is self-unity or integrity. We achieve integrity through the dedication of ourselves to selfless service of others.

Unless we control of our appetites, we will not be in control of our passions and emotions. We will, instead, becomes victims of our passions, seeking or aspiring our own wealth, dominion, prestige, and power.

I once tried to counsel a junior executive to be more committed to higher principles. It appeared futile. Then I began to realize that I was asking him to conquer the third temptation before he had conquered the first. It was like expecting a child to walk before crawl. So I changed the approach and encouraged him to first discipline his body. We then got great results.

If we conquer some basic appetites first, we will have the power to make good on higher level resolutions later. For example, many people would experience a major transformation if they would maintain normal weight through a healthy diet and exercise program. They would not only look better, but they would also feel better, treat others better, and increase their capacity to do the important but not necessarily urgent things they long to do.

Until you can say "I am my master," you cannot say "I am your servant." In other words, we might profess a service ethic, but under pressure or stress we might be controlled by a particular passion or appetite. We lose our temper. We become jealous, envious, lustful or slothful. Then we feel guilty. We make promises and break them; make resolutions and break them. We gradually lose faith in our own capacity to keep any promises. Despite our ethic to be the "servant of the people," we become the servant or slave of whatever masters us.

This reminds me of the plea of Richard Rich to Thomas More in the movie, A Man For All Seasons. Richard Rich admired More's honesty and integrity and wanted to be employed by him. He pleaded, "Employ me." More answered, "No." Again Rich pleaded, "Employ me," and again the answer was no. Then Rich made this pitiful yet endearing promise: "Sir Thomas, employ me. I would be faithful to you."

Sir Thomas, knowing what mastered Richard Rich, answered, "Richard, you can't even so much as answer for yourself tonight," meaning, "You might profess to be faithful now, but all it will take is a different circumstance, the right bribe or pressure, and you will be so controlled by your ambition and pride that you could not be faithful to me." Sir Thomas More's prognosis came to pass that very night, for Richard Rich betrayed him!

The key to growth is to learn to make promises and to keep them. Self-denial is an essential element in overcoming all three temptations. "One secret act of self-denial, one sacrifice of inclination to duty, is worth all the mere good thoughts, warm feelings, passionate prayers, in which idle men indulge themselves," said John Henry Newman. "The worst education which teaches self-denial is better than the best which teaches everything else and not that," said Sterling.

Making and keeping these three universal resolutions will accelerate our self-development and, potentially, increase our influence with others.

  1. Overcoming appetites and desires
  2. Overcoming pride and pretension
  3. Overcoming unbridled aspiration and ambition

Subscribe to FranklinCovey On Leadership and receive weekly videos, tools, articles, and podcasts to help you become a better leader.

Learn more about the timeless principles in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by registering for a complimentary webcast.

About the Author

Stephen R. Covey

Over his lifetime, Stephen inspired millions with the power of universal principles. As he traveled the globe many times over, his message was a simple one: for true success and meaning in life, we must be principle-centered in all areas of life. A teacher at heart, he often taught, "There are three constants in life: change, choice and principles." From the oval office, the board room, community halls and to the school house and family room, Stephen taught the mindset, skillset and toolset found in The 7 Habits of Highly effective people, his seminal work. His legacy is woven in The 7 habits, and, just as these habits are universal and timeless, so is Stephen R. Covey, who is admired around the world for his simple, yet powerful, universal, timeless teachings. Recognized as one of Time magazine’s 25 most influential Americans, Stephen R. Covey was one of the world’s foremost leadership authorities, organizational experts, and thought leaders.

Follow on Twitter Visit Website More Content by Stephen R. Covey
Previous Article
Overcoming Pride and Pretension
Overcoming Pride and Pretension

In each of our lives, there are powerful restraining forces at work to pull down any new resolution or init...

Next Article

Paradigm comes from the Greek root, paradigma. It basically means a pattern, a model, a representation, som...


Sign Up for Our Weekly Newsletter

First Name
Last Name
FranklinCovey does not share, sell, rent or trade personally identifiable information with third parties for promotional purposes. Privacy policy
Thank you!
Error - something went wrong!