Business of Men

Ambition and ego | an owner’s manual


Let’s start with a five-second Q&A. What is the difference between ‘ambition’ and ‘ego’?

(Pause for effect)

Well, according to the dictionary, ambition is defined as “a strong drive for success” and ego is “an inflated feeling of pride in your superiority to others”. Simple? Not so much… you are always going to have an element of faith in your potential in order to have drive. And some people are always going to misread that as ego.

And even when you simply have a strong drive for success, the way people see you in relation to your ambition, can have some negativity attached to it. For example, they may think you have an ego for aiming high or even having already achieved your current level of success.

Kate Gale elaborates on how ambition is portraying on stage and screen, writing that, “In plays and movies, ambitious people are usually the bad guys. Ambitious women are absolutely evil. So evil that nobody wants to be around them”.

Using this definition, where ambitious women are painted in a negative light, nowhere is it suggested that ambition itself is ‘bad’ thing. Just a character trait associated with bad people.

Having an ego is also associated with ‘bad’ personalities, and is more clearly connected to being too self-involved or narcissistic. But as Lucy Taylor notes, this is an increasingly accepted trend with the self-focus of current times: “More of us have huge expectations of ourselves, our lives and everyone in them…We have trouble accepting criticism and extending empathy because we are so preoccupied with ourselves”.

But just as ambition can weave back and forth across the dividing line with ego, it can also surge and waver at various stages of a woman’s life, as Rebecca Adams and Catherine Pearson revealed.

Adams and Pearson discovered that, as women age, their “hunger for success” in the workplace deceases, noting that, “…73 percent of women in their 20s ranked it as “very important” — but that eager majority falls to 61 percent for women in their 30s, 50 percent for women in their 40s and 50s until it drops down to 37 percent for women in their 60s”.

But why is this so? Is it that as we age, we find fewer things to aim for and be ambitious about? Perhaps. But it is also possible that the price women pay for their ambition weighs heavier on our minds as we age than in our youth, as Kathy Caprino writes: “Ambition is not the issue, and lack of ambition is NOT what holds women back.  It’s the COST of ambition – and the struggle women face in pursuing their ambitions — that is at the heart of why we have so few women leaders today, and why women are achieving less and not reaching as high as men…”

But no matter what the ‘cost’ is that women have to pay for their ambition, they can hardly be blamed for having no ambition at all, with Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick saying, “Perhaps their ambitions do not fit the ideal worker model as well as men’s do. It’s that model that needs to change — not the women”.

The same article by Natasha Bita also cited research on women’s “lack of ambition”, writing that it was blamed by 19 per cent of men and 13 per cent of women, in the poll of 1000 professionals by workplace consultancy Positive Leaders”.

But, it seems, no matter hard we try and no matter where we look, women and ambition still come with negative connotations, with Caprino also writing, “I hear from professional women each day that the term “ambitious” has negative connotations for them… They want to reach the top, but are reluctant to describe themselves as ambitious because they fear it will make them appear arrogant, power-hungry, self-absorbed, with a “win at all costs” mentality”.

Alexandra Cain commented on the ego-driven difference between men and women, writing, “…ego clashes occur far more frequently between people of the same gender, and seldom between people of different genders”.

But, no matter how much negativity it is associated with, ambition is “the drive for success” and not the “drive to be evil and self-absorbed”.

Certainly, keep an eye on your ego … allow it to be healthy without letting it get out of hand. But always ignore the negative stereotypes ascribed to ambitious women. Ambition is a great thing and there is nothing wrong with wanting to achieve all your goals.

If you need to send your ego to boot camp to help keep your ambition strong, do it. But make sure the boot camp includes regular stints of reality, and give it a warm-up with the tips below.


  1. Ambitious individuals are always striving towards a goal: “People with this quality are not the type of person to stagnate and sit still. They have an inner clock that is always ticking…”;
  2. They continue to work through setbacks: “The ambitious individual will continue to fight towards their goals amid any adversity or setbacks… Their goals are that important to them”; and
  3. Ambitious people always set another goal: “Whenever these people hit their goals, they set another one right away. Many ambitious people actually prefer the thrill of the journey of chasing and working towards their goal rather than actually achieving it!”


  1. The ego isolates: “The ego keeps you isolated and separate, biased, and judgmental.
  2. The ego is defensive: “When someone gives you constructive criticism you might start explaining to them why you did what you did. When you try to defend your actions, that is the ego talking”;
  3. The ego is never satisfied: “When the ego gets what it thinks it wants, it wants more”;

About Amanda Rose

Founder and CEO of The Business Woman Media. Amanda Rose is also the only 'strategic connector', a brand strategist, keynote speaker and host of Amanda Rose TV. Connect with Amanda Rose on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter or visit

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