Why selfless ambition is the best kind

May 15, 2024

I’m a very ambitious person and, in my early years, typified the usual picture of ambition. I worked late and sacrificed my weekends. I threw myself into my work and, I’m ashamed to say, sacrificed many family trips and special moments that I’ll never get back. 

It hurts to admit that now, but it’s also necessary to underscore the drastic change in my personal definition of ambition. Over the past few years, I’ve gradually moved from this self-centered type of ambition and embraced more of a selfless ambition.

Cutthroat tactics kill relationships, encouragement builds them

When we’re ambitious in a selfish way, we become obsessed with succeeding at all costs. We push ourselves and our teams to work harder and longer hours, often sacrificing time with our family and friends. This kind of ambition leads to burnout, exhaustion, and resentment from loved ones who feel neglected.

This selfish ambition can be detrimental to our relationships in a number of ways:

  • Competition vs. collaboration: This leads to a lack of trust and respect between team members as everyone vies for their own recognition and share of resources. It’s better to just get more pie and allow people to form meaningful, collaborative connections with one another.
  • Fear vs. freedom: Selfish leaders create an environment of fear, where opposing ideas are stifled and people are afraid to speak up and voice their opinions.
  • Overloaded vs. overjoyed: When leaders are overly focused on their own goals and neglect the wellness of others, staff are bound to be overworked as they serve “the good of the company.” This eventually causes churn as people look for greener pastures and better work environments. It’s better to consider the individual goals of those around us and translate our goals to how they impact them.

Uncontrolled passion kills joy, focus enhances it

Two years ago, I felt that my business was my show and had to have final say in every part of it, from marketing and tech to management and sales. My work ethic and ambition drove me to do some great things, but at the cost of my personal quality of life. As MBS Accountancy has grown and the demand for my time has increased, I’ve found this makes me more of a bottleneck than a boost to the business. Rather than pushing the business forward, I can hold it back if I’m holding all the reins. Plus, I’ll feel overworked and unsatisfied while I do it.

I’ve learned it’s better to control my passion and focus on areas of strength:

  • Overwhelming passion can close our mind to new ideas.
  • Being stubborn about our pet project can cause us to miss new opportunities.
  • Too much passion can make us too impatient to recognize incremental progress.

Putting others first means nobody is last

As motivational speaker Zig Ziglar pointed out, “You can have everything in life you want if you will just help other people get what they want.” As we’ve started hiring more over the past few years, I have reflected a lot on my own early years in the accounting industry. I want my team to have a much better journey in their early accounting journey than I did. No 80-hour workweeks for 6 months out of the year. No inaccessible partners and seniors who ghost them for months.

As I’ve worked on making MBS Accountancy a great place to work, I’ve benefited as well. Our work-from-anywhere policy means I am able to work from home too. And, becoming a hybrid firm has caused us to work hard on solidifying our processes so we have team-wide clarity and transparency. This has helped us all learn how to manage our workload so we have less stressful workdays.

Helping others helps you

In the past, I tried to hold all the reins because I believed I was the only one able to do it well. Over time, my feelings of exhaustion and tiredness soon give way to another, more harmful attitude: jaded bitterness. I privately began to resent every task I did throughout the day. Thankfully, however, I realized one day that I can’t do everything by myself. To protect my sanity and work-life balance, I must enlist the help of people who are far better than I am in my areas of weakness.

Through delegation, I can:

  • Focus on the areas where I excel while allowing others to contribute in their own unique ways.
  • Create a sense of ownership and collaboration among my team as they work on projects and tasks that align with their passions and interests.
  • Spread out the workload so nobody is overwhelmed with too much work.
  • Help everyone feel like participants in one another’s success, which improves our company culture and unites our team around our shared vision.

Ambition is best when balanced

Ultimately, selfless ambition is about doing what’s best for everyone—not just yourself. It’s about looking at the bigger picture, not just focusing on your own agenda. It’s about leading by example and inspiring others to do the same. In short, it’s an attitude that can lead to great success while ensuring no one around you gets left behind along the way.