Ambition vs Greed

Ambition_vs_GreedIf there are two words that are often confused, they are ambition and greed. It is the perspective of the person using these words and sometimes their agendas that are the difference. Most people see ambition as a positive value to be cherished and greed as a negative attribute to avoid. Most people would say that the person who is striving to advance himself as ambitious. Most people see the executive who embezzles from the company for which he works as greedy.

However, most people have televisions. On most televisions have shows with people who have an agenda to mislead others. They cloud the difference between ambition and greed. What happens when the man who strives for the promotion at work becomes the executive who embezzles from the company for which he works? What about the hard working woman who builds a great company and then becomes wealthy? Some people label her as greedy simply because of her financial success. Behind the scenes, she may donate large sums of money to charitable causes, but people still label her as greedy. How is one quality different from the other?

In showing the difference between these two words, it’s important to remember that we consider the perspective of the observer (and sometimes, agenda of the critic). Let’s look at the definitions of both words and then we can decide where we draw the line between the two.

Definition of Ambition defines ambition as “an earnest desire for some type of achievement or distinction, as power, honor, fame, or wealth, and the willingness to strive for its attainment.” That sounds like a good quality to have, right? Who would read this and say that this is a bad idea? Maybe the person who got fired because of someone else’s ambition? Almost anyway you look at ambition it sounds like a quality that garners respect and admiration.

Definition of Greed defines greed as “excessive or rapacious desire, especially for wealth or possessions.” That sounds like a quality we avoid. The desire for wealth or possessions to the point of embezzling from a company could be considered excessive. Wealthy people have been called greedy by politicians asking them to “pay their ‘fair share'” (whatever that means). I always think it curious that people with little demanding other people’s money in the name of the wealthy being greedy. For whatever reason and whatever agenda, greed is something that causes abhorrence and consternation in others.

Enter Jim Rohn

One of my first personal development influences was Jim Rohn. I bought my mp3’s titled The Art of Exceptional Living in August 2008, and I still listen to them occasionally today. I never had the chance to meet him, but his legacy lives on today in his books and audio programs. Mr. Rohn looked at the difference between these two words and came to an interesting conclusion. Here is the best explanation for the differences between these two words that I know. According to Mr. Rohn, enlightened self-interest is the basis for both of these words. Enlightened self-interest is the basically desire for gain. The difference is that greed is gaining at the expense of others. Ambition is gaining in the service of others. I am not a religious man, but there is a lot of wisdom in ancient writings. For example, The Bible says that Jesus of Nazareth said that to become the greatest of them all is the person who serves the most people. Gaining a fortune by serving the most people I consider to be ambitious, but not greedy.

No matter your religious views, serving others is better than taking from others. Remember this whenever you hear of someone accused of being greedy. Is that person serving others, or are they taking from others while giving nothing in return? Should the day come that someone calls you greedy, make sure that you are gaining from serving others instead of taking from others.

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