“In a professional context, passion and ambition are different constructs, though quite related. They are both almost always present within successful people. The question concerns how much of each is productive. What’s the ratio?” - Dr. Todd Dewett

In a professional context, passion and ambition are different constructs, though quite related. They are both almost always present within successful people. The question concerns how much of each is productive. What’s the ratio? Let’s think about each for a moment.

Passion is about purpose. Generally, it has a strong positive connotation. It’s about moving past a mental attraction to a topic into emotional and behavioral engagement. It manifests in persistence, a willingness to deal with challenges, a desire to share the passion with others, and a feeling of being more fulfilled as a result of association with the focus of the passion.

In contrast, ambition is about individual achievement. It has both positive and negative connotations. On the positive side, ambition is about reaching your potential, seeking approval and belonging, desiring respect, and attempting to find security. On the negative side, ambition may be associated with shortsightedness, selfishness, and unproductive rule breaking or otherwise questionable behavior.

In practice, ambition can shift from positive to negative. Consider the case of seeking acceptance morphing into chasing accolades, or a desire to be respected evolving into a desire to be worshipped. It’s also important to state that at extremely high levels both passion and ambition can be blinding and cause an unproductive disengagement from certain people and tasks.

Clearly passion and ambition are interrelated. Ideally, one assists the other. Passion without ambition will limit achievement. Ambition without passion will produce empty wins. They need each other.

2016 photo of Dr. Todd Dewett on HRExaminer.com

Dr. Todd Dewett | Founding member, HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board

What about that ratio? I like to think that, on average, a successful person needs twice as much passion as ambition. They can both be strong, but passion must be stronger. From a self-reflection and self-improvement perspective, this allows ambition to motivate behavior, yet within the positive confines of purpose. Similarly, one dose of ambition ensures that passion finds focus and proper targets for achievement.

If you would like to argue that something closer to 50/50 is preferred, good for you. The exact ratio is not my concern. The point is they both play important complimentary roles, and passion, most of the time, needs to be the strongest.

Let me help you begin to find your productive balance of passion and ambition. Consider these three simple ideas to get started.

First, don’t just look at skill and intelligence when you judge those around you and the people you hire. It’s often said you should surround yourself with people who are smarter than you are. Good advice, but incomplete. It’s vital you also surround yourself with people of clearly strong character. People of high character more naturally understand the discussion above.

Next, think about explaining to someone why you love trying to achieve new heights. When passion is more dominant than ambition, the explanation will easily flow. People can’t stop sharing when passion rules! If you struggle to answer this question, or if your best answer is “money” or “status,” ambition may have taken over and it’s time to reevaluate your approach to success (or at the very least, you lack passion).

Finally, start a conversation. This must be more than a short essay you read or a simple thinking exercise. Conversation keeps things mentally alive and relevant. Think about your boss, a key colleague, mentor, coach, or close friend. Find the right time – just once in a while – to talk about this balance, how you are doing, and how they view the issue. Conversation makes the issue stay relevant.

With a little thought and persistence, this balance eventually ceases being a struggle and simply becomes a dance you happily engage.

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