Tiny Wisdom: What Wise Ambition Means


“Of course there is no formula for success except, perhaps, an unconditional acceptance of life and what it brings.” –Arthur Rubinstein

Can ambition and wisdom coexist? Can you simultaneously want something specific and drive yourself to create it while accepting that what will be, will be?

The other day, a reader emailed asking this question—if he can motivate his team at work to “do whatever it takes” to reach their goals, and also teach them to embrace the idea of surrendering.

At first glance, these two ideas seem conflicting. Implicit in the suggestion to “do whatever it takes” is the idea that there is a way—it’s just a matter of finding it. Surrendering, on the other hand, implies an understanding that the future is uncertain and not entirely within our control

So what does it mean to persevere, and believe fully in your vision, while knowing that there are no guarantees? How can you motivate yourself to keep plowing ahead toward a specific goal, while also detaching from the outcome?

If you surrender to the unknown, will you lose that sense of urgency—that drive, that hunger that propels you toward your dreams?

A teacher once told me that successful people act as if they can’t fail—that the outcome they want to create is a given, so all they need to go is keep going until they find their way through the maze of obstacles between now and then.

I understood his intention. If we believe we can’t fail, we won’t doubt ourselves or lose confidence when we inevitably stumble.

But this teaches us to ignore our instincts when they tell us we no longer want to do something; or that it would be smartest to cut our losses and do something else. The reality is that there will be times when it’s wisest to change directions or give up.

Surrendering is recognizing that this is always a possibility—and then being open to the signs that tell us when to persist and when to change course.

Ambition without wisdom is inflexibly attaching to a specific goal, even if it means making foolish decisions that conflict with your values, beliefs, intentions, and instincts.

Wise ambition is the knowledge that you can still “succeed” and be happy, even if you need to change your goal or adjust your action steps.

Buddha image via Shutterstock

About Lori Deschene

Lori Deschene is the founder of Tiny Buddha. She’s also the author of Tiny Buddha’s Gratitude Journal, Tiny Buddha's Worry Journal, and Tiny Buddha's Inner Strength Journal and co-founder of Recreate Your Life Story, an online course that helps you let go of the past and live a life you love. For daily wisdom, join the Tiny Buddha list here. You can also follow Tiny Buddha on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

See a typo or inaccuracy? Please contact us so we can fix it!