Ambition & Discontent (Paradox Pair #75)

Being discontent serves as an early warning signal that our ambitions are out of balance.

Neon lights, blue and red, reflect off a deserted, wet city street at night
Ambition & Discontent, JLP

We recognize the feeling of discontentment for it's valuable, early warning signal — a recognition that our current landscape is not quite what we seek. It is a fork in the road where one path leads to greater meaning and purpose, while the other leads to a lack of fulfillment and regret. When we encounter discontent we must make a choice.

Finding the source of our discontent unlocks our imagination, our curiosity to explore what could be. Here lies the catalyst for imagining an alternative state, one that fuels our aspiration and creates the motivator we call ambition.

"Live your life in such a way that when you are by yourself you feel good about yourself"
-Tom Bilyeu

There are three components to ambition that need to be balanced to achieve success: performance, growth, and incentive. Performance ambition is focused on the results, often expressed as specific goals to achieve. Growth ambition directs our attention to build a plan to reach our performance goals, it is both developmental and actionable. Incentive ambition are the rewards we attain, the payoff, and provides us the motivation to act.

When there is an imbalance within ambition — where performance, growth, and incentive are not equal — we find ourselves re-experiencing discontentment, standing at a more frustrating fork in the road. When incentives become dominate in lieu of results, trust erodes and others see us as arrogant, unrealistic, and selfish. If our performance gets too much attention, we risk setting unattainable goals, take short cuts, and increase opportunity costs. If growth captures the majority of our attention, we create a plan to nowhere, lacking the incentive and means to execute, we are left to dream about, and be disappointed with, an improbable future.

Ambition, drive, and grit are required to overcome obstacles in our way, yet it is discontent that will be the warning system to alert us if we have chosen the right path or not.


The Paradox Pairs series is an exploration of the contradictory forces that surround us.  A deeper study finds that these forces often complement each other if we can learn to tap into the strength of each. See the entire series by using the Paradox Pairs Index.