Ambition: the dark side, the light side

Dalene Reyburn

I suffer from various Double-Edged Personality-Strength disorders. If you’re human you probably do too. ‘Cause your greatest strength is always what most quickly becomes your greatest weakness. For now, I’ll just ‘fess up to one.

I have Ambition, which has led to a secondary infection known as Competitiveness.

There are a number of different strains of the Ambition Virus, so it’s important that I clarify. I’m not Lady Macbeth. I’m also not the girl who wants to sleep her way into the boardroom. Or earn more than her husband. In terms of my Competitive condition, I won’t sulk if our volleyball team doesn’t beat yours at church camp, and I don’t immediately accelerate if someone passes me on the highway.

Doctors sometimes struggle to identify my strain of Ambition, because it hides in healthy-looking cells and the symptoms can even manifest as bursts of startling wellbeing. This is because Ambition is essentially good, if managed. Left unchecked it goes, well, viral.

My Ambition is what drives me to keep on becoming everything God made me to be. Even when I was very little, I was aware of this Thing in me always pressing me – calling me – to be more. As I grew up so did my understanding. I committed to living as fully as I knew how. For as long as I’ve known my sort-of grownup self, I’ve had an overriding-undergirding desire to live out – out loud, outside of myself – all the best bits of me that God has stuffed into my DNA. I’ve tried to develop the gifts and hack out the lousy sinful bits.

Sounds good, right? Pretty damn spiritual.


The virus becomes dangerous when two things happen.

  1. My ego, feeding on the outworkings of God-given strengths, becomes more important than God’s glory.
  2. Things don’t happen as quickly as I’d like them to, in the direction of my dreams.

So lately, I’ve been self-medicating on Scripture and other sort-it-out suppositories.

My treatment is still in the experimental, non-FDA-approved phase because I’m not completely cured. I suspect that this side of eternity I can only hope for some kind of long-term semi-permanent remission with daily antiretrovirals.

Still, if I were to write out a course of treatment for other Ambition sufferers, it might look something like this:

Take two capsules of Reality Check. It’s not about you. Whatever your strain of Ambition, channel it into Kingdom purposes. You are nothing more than dust-to-dust transience. Any enduring impact you hope to have can only be in reflecting God’s glory and making him famous.

Inject yourself daily with Now. Enjoy the present. Don’t only crave future possible (or impossible) successes. Love the work (today) not the result (hopefully tomorrow). Celebrate the process.

With the Now, take a double dose of Trust. God knows what he wants to do with your talents. He gave them to you. It’s in his interests to position you perfectly for his Kingdom purposes. Leave it to him. ‘Humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honour.’ (1 Peter 5:6)

Cut out all forms of Worry. Don’t let it get to you when people are dismissive or condescending – when they won’t admit that you have what it takes. ‘The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.’ (Exodus 14:14) Don’t stress out about proving or defending yourself. If and when the time is right God will blow your trumpet. Loudly, for his glory.

Rest. Don’t keep checking the progress of strangers or friends. There will always be people behind and ahead of you. Your journey is your journey.

Swallow all the Right Thinking you can. ‘Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.’ (Romans 12:3) So don’t be arrogant. But back yourself. Fail forwards. Risk.

To get rid of the excruciating pangs of jealousy that sometimes beset Competitive and Ambition sufferers, find ways to celebrate others’ victories. Brag about how awesome they are.

Like, I’m bad at a lot of things (like cake decorating, and finding my way out of public toilets. Seriously. So many cubicles. So many mirrors.) But I’ve always known I can write. I’ve always known I can teach. I get jealous when other people are doing just that – so flippin’ well – in the kind of forum I would totally love. I get all feverish with Ambition and Competitiveness when I think about it. I go, ‘She has so many followers on Twitter. He has so many invitations to write and speak.’ The thing that kicks my jealousy in the teeth every time is giving these people the shout out they deserve. Spreading the love. Because, again, it’s about the Kingdom. Not me.

So I’m praying for me (and I’m praying for you):

Jesus, I find this stuff so overwhelming, because I’m terrified I don’t see it in myself. Help me to hold the gift of my strengths carefully, in open hands. I don’t want to clutch them to myself and squash them out of their intended shape. Help me remember that you have plotted out a little patch of Kingdom garden for me to tend. That I can surrender to your agenda because you hold all of time. Show me the me-shaped spaces in the world that you have prepared for me to fill. In your way. In your time.

(Dalene blogs here and here.)

[for more on Steve and his Strength Weakness of Knowledge, click here]