Ambition – a good quality but it doesn't necessarily equal success

19 April 2016

‘Ambition’ is a term that covers pretty much every arena of human activity that exists. And Ambition, a recently published book by Rachel Bridge, wants you to succeed.

To egg you on, it presents 12 steps, each consisting of a chapter filled with practical, common sense advice that in isolation may sound rather obvious, but within the context of the book, provides a structure that you can follow as though it were a checklist.

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Inevitably, the book mostly deals with ambitions related to business – but its advice is broad enough to cover most goals.

As far as this goes, the book is a success. It’s peppy, and at the end of each chapter it asks you to complete three tasks – each one manageable, yet useful.

But I found the book’s message didn’t necessarily align with my view of reality. It’s replete with examples of people who gave it all up to pursue their dream – invariably people in their mid-thirties saying farewell to well-paying jobs and putting their family’s welfare at risk in doing so. They’ve all succeeded beyond what they thought possible and they all talk about what a good idea it had been for them. Inspiring, yes, but in my view, reckless.

When I first began working, getting a job, especially in London, was a case of walking into an agency and saying you were available the next day. Not so now. This means that if your great plan doesn’t work, it may be hard to find a fall back.

So despite working hard on accomplishing my own ambition, I would never put my life on the line in the way this book suggests I should because the risk is far too high. No amount of gung-ho attitude or self-belief will keep you warm when sitting outside a cashpoint with a baseball cap in front of you. But I still work at it because I find the process essential to my mental wellbeing and the results gratifying.

When reading these interviews, I couldn’t help but think that instead of a load of people who’ve succeeded against astronomically long odds, it would be far more illuminating – and honest – to hear from people who risked it all, failed, but still don’t regret doing it. In only supplying tales of great success, the book doesn’t feel sincere.

In addition, like so many books of this type, it also refers to the people in your life as though they’re commodities to be traded. For example, if they’re not supportive, dump them and surround yourself with people you look up to.

This sense of bending all aspects of one’s life towards accomplishing their goals is prevalent throughout the book and understandably so, but expanding this to the things in life that are most precious – our friends and family – leaves a bad taste in my mouth. To me, this type of thinking is why we’ve seen peoples’ working lives bleed into their personal lives to such an extent.

My final issue relates to the defining of what goals are worthwhile and how you measure success. The book does touch on this early on, but then later discusses and interviews Katie Hopkins as though she’s an example of great success. She is famous, yes – and no doubt she’s made a lot of money - but in my view, these are thin ambitions. We know we’re judged by the company we keep, and so for me, the inclusion of such a frightful person is a huge mark against the author’s message.

Lastly, the book ends with a huge bit of ego stroking and tells you that you WILL succeed. It feels childish to say this. It’s the sort of thing you’d hear at a Californian cuddle party. Self-belief doesn’t have to stretch to self-delusion.

While this review may come across as negative, overall the book achieves what it intends to do. Ambition is an easy-going read and it’s smartly laid out. If you’ve always had some grand project fermenting in the back of your head but didn’t know where to start, reading this will certainly give you the impetus you need. However, I would take some of it with an oversized grain of salt.