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How We Misunderstand Ambition – and Why It’s So Important

Sophia Zamani | Nov 15, 2023

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the authoritative views of the Baha'i Faith.

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Sophia Zamani | Nov 15, 2023

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the authoritative views of the Baha'i Faith.

In my personal experience, the term “ambition” usually gets used mainly in regards to career success and the pursuit of materialistic accumulation. 

Someone is deemed ambitious if they seek a high salary or a high-level position at a company, but I believe the word encompasses so much more than that. Here’s the Oxford Dictionary definition:

ambition: a strong desire to do or to achieve something, typically requiring determination and hard work.

Ambition applies to all the things we engage in, not just our careers or our material desires. It can especially apply, I’ve learned, to our highest aspirations and goals.

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Whether it’s our spirituality, relationships, passions/hobbies, ambition allows us to find meaning in what we do and what we practice, because it elevates just working towards something to really working hard at it. This gives us purpose and meaning in all that we do. 

Ambition is really just hard work toward a goal, fueled by purpose and passion. An ambitious person finds strength through trust in the universe, and uses it to persist through life’s unavoidable tests, trials, and challenges. Those people without strong ambition will often give up at the first roadblock or sign of difficulty. 

So true ambition begins with a mindset which we can refer to as simply passion, but it’s the following through with it that makes one ambitious. In a speech he gave in Paris, Abdu’l-Baha said

Although in the past all the great Spiritual Teachers have arisen in the East, there are still many men there who are quite devoid of spirituality. With regard to the things of the spirit they are as lifeless as a stone; nor do they wish to be otherwise, for they consider that man is only a higher form of animal and that the things of God concern him not.

With regard to the things of the spirit they are as lifeless as a stone; nor do they wish to be otherwise … But man’s ambition should soar above this – he should ever look higher than himself, ever upward and onward, until through the Mercy of God he may come to the Kingdom of Heaven.

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Ambitious people seek more, and want to learn and grow. Ambition is so important to consider when looking at spiritual development. With all of the world’s various distractions, we can all easily diverge onto a wayward, unproductive path rather than focusing on the spiritual guidance we’ve each been blessed with receiving. It takes great willpower, consistency, and strength to stay on this path. This constancy is the true test of one’s strength.

The Baha’i teachings ask all people to develop, hold, and pursue the highest possible ambitions. Abdu’l-Baha, in another speech in Paris, urged us to “Let your ambition be the achievement on earth of a Heavenly civilization!” 

When we focus on those kinds of lofty spiritual goals, we can find ways to escape the constraints of our own egos – and to bring about a better world.

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