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How do I let go of the constant striving for a higher paying job with more power and a title? The whole idea of making more money in order to buy more things is a way of thinking that is hard to break free from. I am a fifth grade teacher and I love teaching. I am happiest when I am in the classroom. I recently finished a degree in leadership that would make me qualified to become a principal. I did not do this out of desire for the job but rather as a way to compete with other teachers that talked about wanting to be a principal. It was also a convenient way to attract attention to myself. I did not enjoy one moment of the degree or the internship hours. Yet even though I am aware of all of this I feel a sense of duty to continue to seek that powerful, higher paying job. This whole situation is causing a great deal of stress that I cannot seem to meditate myself out of.


I can relate. I’ll probably run into the same thing myself within a few years, maybe sooner. I’ve always been far too competitive.

You state several things that might be the cause of this, but I think you should be able to narrow it down to just one. It’s important to think on this and see if you can narrow down your reasons for this behavior. Are you simply competitive? Are you greedy, wanting more and more money (teaching probably isn’t the best career for you if that’s the case)? Or are you doing this out of a need for self-promotion, attracting attention to yourself?

None of these ideas make you either unique or a bad person; we’re all raised with the idea of becoming a wealthy, successful person in a position of power. It’s not that hard to do it if you apply yourself and work hard. The problem comes when you get to that place by doing something you don’t enjoy doing, or cause yourself suffering by grasping too hard for more and more.

Buddhists can have ambitions. Buddhists need money too. Buddhists like recognition as much as the next guy. The problem arises when these things become goals, not tools.

You need to think/meditate on this and figure out why you are doing it. If you love the classroom, you’ll probably be miserable in an administrative position. It’s a whole different world. If you can find a good reason to become a Principal, then go for it. If you simply do it because of ambition, greed, or a need for attention, you are going to resent giving up the job you love.

Your instincts already tell you that there’s something wrong with your desire for this promotion. You already know that it’s not going to be what you want. You just need to figure out what the root cause is and work on that problem before your ambition or greed drives you to something you don’t like.

11 comments to Ambition

  • Zeneduc8r

    Thank you for the advice! I am trying to figure out the root cause through meditation and reflection, but just when I think I have it figured out I realize I don’t have it figured out. It must be deep, whatever it is.

  • ZenYen

    Is there a spouse, or are there children, who also might be affected by the decision? Would the promotion mean not only more income, but better job security? Perhaps looking at the promotion as a means of providing for the welfare of people you love would make it seem less of a drudgery job compared to the teaching position you prefer. Then again, if your job makes you unhappy, that would affect the lives of any loved ones, too.

    And now that I’ve complicated this issue even more, I have to say I have no ready answer. Sorry …

  • ZenSaint

    The only way to effect positive change on a system so direly in need of it is from within. It’s very hard to change policy and procedure when you are in the classroom, but from inside the administration, you can do this. My wife is a special ed teacher who’s been contemplating a board of ed position for several years and I’ve encouraged her to take it for this reason. good luck to you!

  • Jason

    I’m not sure if more thinking on the issue is the answer. At some point one must stop living in the problem and start living in the solution.
    I know for myself that living a spiritual life has decreased my “need” for more stuff or prestige. If those things come, fine, if not, fine. I like to think about a trip to rural Cuba… people with Zero power, Zero money, and happier than any people I’ve ever seen! From personal experience, I can safely say that being driven around by my ego is tiring and unfulfilling.
    In this case I would try a different mind-set… as ZenSaint says above, this position is a unique opportunity to affect change in your surroundings. I wonder how life would look if you were to stop thinking about it as an “I” issue, and instead spin it around and make it a “We” thing, where you can be of maximum service to others instead of feeding a self centered self absorbed ego.
    If that doesn’t happen naturally, try to ‘act as if’ the change already occurred – in other words ‘fake it til you make it!’ 🙂

  • Abe Simpson

    I have wrestled with the very same dilemma. I learned to let it go.

    If I am constantly reaching for the next goal, then I am denying my presence to those I currently “work” for . I quote work because it may not just be employment. It may be family, friends or the community I live in.

    The most important gift we have to offer is our presence in the present.

    Now days, I work a job, not a career. I can still effect change in my community, but I do not have to suffer the sacrifices. This works for me, hopefully you will find your middle path too.

  • Carl

    I just read your question about Ambition and I have to say that I believe you are looking at this in an unhealthy way. You should not be looking for these things to make you happy.

    Titles mean nothing to the people you work with, for or work for you. You can have the title of CEO or President and they are just titles. I was lucky to have mentors that taught this to me when I was young in my career. People follow leaders and leaders that lead by example. You can have any title but you earn leadership by setting the example. Leading by doing what is best for the client, the company, school, and the people that work for you and with you. That is the best way to have a title and to earn that title whatever it is.

    Power. If you have to use power to get people to do things for you or the way you want them to do them then you have NO POWER. They do it because they are afraid of you. You let the people who work for you and with you do what they do best. Let them make the decisions; they usually know what is best and what needs to be done. Let them have the power to make those decisions. You need to be a teacher to these people. If you think they are going to make a poor decision you need to teach them why that is a poor decision. You may be right but you may also learn something from them. You also have to let them make decisions that are sometimes wrong so that they learn and you can teach them why it was the wrong decision and make it a learning experience. Everyone who works for you and with you will know you do have the power in the end but you don’t need to use it. Be a teacher and leader first.

    Surround yourself with the best people. If you think you are the only one who can make the right decisions then you are not developing people for now and into the future to carry on when you are gone. I know I am smart. But I have smarter people around me and I give them all the responsibility that they want. The people that work for me run the department. I give that to them so they get all of the credit for the good things. It is their department and company. Sure, do I have the final say on things when it is needed? Yes, but I rarely ever have to use it or need to use it. And they know I will support them when they need support to get their jobs done.

    Money, it has always come to me and I rarely even ask for it now. I view myself as a leader and teacher and I get the credit for being such and rewarded for it.

    You sound happy when you are teaching. Do what you do best. If you want to increase your income then find something that you can do on the side to work your way into something full time that you will enjoy and give you a higher income. Don’t take the path that makes you unhappy. It will only lead you to an area you don’t want to be in.

  • Jami

    Find the advice, with respect, a bit wanting. Sounds much too like an American frame-reference. As to the question, a teacher should a least know that promotional ambition has much to do with Buddhism as monasticism as do with partying.
    But I guess we all must begin somewhere-but can American- style Buddhism compromise the classic tradition too much? I say this with ‘love’ in my heart.

  • ed

    I think the only ambition you should have is to eanble everyone around you to gain enlightenment and this can only be achieved by not putting yourself in a position where you have power, physical, mental, material power etc. over others. If you are promoted to a position where you may have to tell people to do things that compromise them by them being in a position of subservience to you then you should look at how you could change your role and thus help change the power system that exists. This could be simple things such as instead of passing oders down to people you could sit down with them and say ‘I’ve been asked to order you to do this, but I want us to talk about it and make sure it is fair, if it’s not fair and reasonable then I will report back to higher management that it’s not reasonable’, you may be seen as a ‘rebel’ or ‘trouble maker’ but if you just obey orders and in turn dish out oders to others then you are not acting in a way that would benefit your journey towards enlightenment, you may recognise that what you are doing is not right, but it is only action that will bring about change in you and others.

  • A

    Why be so hung up on desire and ambition? Right livelihood is part of the 8-fold path and the Buddha was not fond of laziness. All that this repression regarding ambition and desire does is lead to internal division and just creates more problems and turmoil within the self. How can you become enlightened if you are constantly at war with yourself and your desires, or if you are always stressing out because you are broke? If you are not hurting anyone, why not be successful and have a nice lifestyle…the fruits of your good karma? After all, poverty sucks. Try it sometimes. The Buddha thought so too. If you actually read his own teachings, he was all for ethical commerce, doing work that you enjoy doing and have a talent for and prosperity, maybe not for his monks for whom renunciation is part of the job description, but certainly for “householders”.

  • Charles Kensington

    “Buddhists like recognition as much as the next guy.”

    I disagree. Seeking recognition is unbuddhist. It does not matter if one gets credit. It matters only that good is done.

  • Robin

    Hello Brian.

    Ask yourself what you need from life and what you need in life. For almost everyone, the two questions have different answers.

    Consider what you need in life; a dry and warm place to sleep, enough food to keep the body whole, the ability to share with your fellow man the things that you love.

    Now ask yourself what you want from life.

    When the answer to both questions is the same, you will stop worrying about promotion, status, wealth and so on. You will be complete and free.