Thursday, November 17, 2016

Ambition Fatigue

I am not sure if I am coining this phrase or if someone had already done it.

That, hardly, is the issue. 

After 30 years in corporate world I have come to a stage where I see this ailment more clearly than ever before. And my interactions outside the corporate world had shown me that this ailment is not restricted only to the business world. 

It is pandemic! 

I can observe the signs of this gnawing at the innards of most friends in my social circle too.  It is gut wrenching to watch the victim. 

Before I proceed to my understanding of the malady, its initial days, the tumultuous middle years and the pathetic end stage, let me summarize here the tell-tale signs of someone suffering from this supreme ailment.

Loss of capacity to smile.

An eternal hurt look, as if the world is out to destroy one’s happiness.

Capacity to find faults in everything.

Lack of decorum.

Passive aggression.


Twisted approach to trap well-wishers in an engineered conversation and leave them helpless and feeling miserable.

A general perception that one has failed in life that is so deeply ingrained that nothing convinces them otherwise.

Alienation from friends

A coterie that gets smaller and smaller

These are just the top of the pops and I am certain that I could list many more characteristics and manifestations but that is beside the point. 

You get the gist.

I do not know the origin of this malady. Surely it is not a modern age phenomenon. It has its roots in ancient history. Maybe all the way back to the cavemen. This has never been recorded as extensively as it should have been. I am not a scholar. So it is not possible for me to refer to specific instances. So I will keep my narration and observations to a general overview. And try my best to refer to instances in recorded history (both actual and fictitious – as what is history if not an elaborate fiction) to make it easier to relate to.

The underlying trigger for this malady is competitiveness. It could be good to let you raise your standards. But at what stage it turns to a monster and destroys you completely is not easy to pinpoint. This stems from the need to be “better than A or B” and not simply to be better than just what one was the previous day. In the latter case you end up seeing successful people who are happy and contended as they are not in a race. 

The former case leads to successful people who are not happy suffering from AF.

It could have been the caveman who clubbed his fellow caveman to death as he wanted to nail the babe the other had succeeded to manage. (to be politically correct and not to have gender discrimination it could well have been the cave woman too ……..)

Jumping to an earlier work of fiction, recorded as greateststory ever told, one comes across Cain who murdered Abel – most miss out the secret message that the murdered was the shepherd and not the crop farmer, thereby forever casting the shepherd (the Lord is my shepherd..) as the pitiable one and the victim but I am digressing here to my favorite punch bag <evil grin>. 

Fact was Cain was made to feel less wanted because someone (naming that someone  would be labelled as blasphemy and I do not want more troubles of my blog becoming a matter of religious debate – God forbid (pun intended)) and ended up knocking off the other bloke. 

Is anyone naïve to believe that Cain lived peacefully after the act. 

On the contrary. 

In the absence of any recorded evidences of the caveman/cavewoman episode referred to above, and resorting to the well-known work of fiction I could not be wrong in labelling Cain as the first known victim of AF.

Or Moses and the Pharaoh of Egypt!

Later on (or was it earlier) Judea Ben-Hur and Messala!

Later in history, more notably among the emperors of Mughal empire, we come across many instances where a sense of competition drove brothers against brothers, sons against fathers to rebel, decimate and deal with the most extreme step of extinguishing the other person and thereby remove the cause of their anxiety and after that continue to wallow in misery till their last breath.

A classic case in reference could be Aurangzeb (prophetically named as his name translates to “universe seizer”) who in his ascend to the throne ensured that he killed his elder brother Dara Shikoh after leveling unverifiable accusations against him and imprisoned his father in Agra Fort with a feeble concession of granting him a window view of Taj Mahal.

A sense of competition bordering on the murderous raged among all the rulers of Mughal empire and instances of fratricide, patricide and all sort of cides were rampant in almost all the recorded history of this bloody empire (again pun intended)

The deceits and travails of such nature were evident in medieval history all over the world.

So much so English language went all the way to coin a word called Regicide!!

Other than what was briefly delved into in the article so far it is possible to compile a copious list of well-known names throughout the recorded history Ramesses, Xerxes, Caligula, Charles, Henry, Nader Shah, Gustav and in recent memory Birendra of Nepal!!!

It is my conclusion that these acts are the culminate acts of the extreme stages of AF. One wallows under this unwinnable race called ambition in its most detrimental form, unable to let go, impossible to see rationalism, fights as far as one can, and finally gives in.

To draw on a simile from the 20th century works of fiction, each Corky is finally controlled by his own Fats.

With tragic ends that are so easily avoidable if one employs reason.

In the modern civilization, murder is not easily performed or condoned.

Unless it is done in millions in the names of rebellion, freedom, emancipation and ironically under the guise of human rights and waged by powerful nations.

In the absence of the extreme outlet that a murder can deliver, the sufferers of modern day AFs end up in punishing themselves and turning on their misplaced wrath on people around them, usually the ones that are dear and near and who does not deserve it at all.

As with all psychological maladies AF is completely misplaced. 

It is a syndrome. 

It has no reason. For everyone else it is obvious. But not to the afflicted. They wallow in misery. Make meaningless comparisons to justify why they are a failure. And how the world is against them. They can be students, successful professionals, entrepreneurs, sportsperson, actors.. etc. etc….

A general statement can be made that those in public eye are more likely to be inflicted by this than those out of the public scrutiny.

As this malady is not recorded and treated,  statistics do not exist. The public eye AFs could be , to risk a cliché, just the tip of an iceberg.

The thinker I admire most, J.Krishnamurti, observed this and probably suggested even a remedy.


Competition is the strongest form of evil; by comparing A to B you destroy them both.


He mentioned this in reference to the faulty system of education, which he tried to eliminate in his Rishi Valley schools, and addressed this mainly to teachers on how to nurture children, but in the modern word situation of a self-inflicted AF syndrome it applies to each one of us.

Does it mean one should remain noncompetitive and carry no dreams of growth and achievement? Is that what am I professing?

Certainly not.

A healthy sense of competition and a desire to excel is mandatory. It should be healthy. It should pit one against oneself. One should aim to become a better person.

Better than what he/she was, better than what he/she thinks he/she is capable of. Like Sergey Bubka who pole vaulted one cm higher each time.

Set goals, put in your best to achieve them and never falter.

But do it with a smile. Without destroying yourself in the process. What is  a pinnacle if you are not able to smile. And you have no one around you to be stupid with.

The psychoanalysts and psychiatrists of the world can have a fortune treating these people inflicted.

My advice to those I see around me struggling in the vice like grip of AF.






Resist the instinct to punish

Stop wallowing in self-pity

Stop over analyzing

Live the moment

Learn to forgive

Learn to forget


If my suggestions sound like a prescription for mediocrity and how to be a failure in life, my dear friend, my sympathies are with you.

You have just been diagnosed with AF.


  1. very well written. Written from heart. Truely it is madness to be after something over which you do not have any control and so what one does in such cases, pull down the others ...compete with yourself not with others. good one.

  2. Perfect..depicting the right world..competition vs self destruction....

    1. thanks a lot Anonymous - glad you liked it - by the way do I know you

  3. Hi Krish if i may call you that "Ambition Fatigue" great read well researched and expressed. Superb prescription.

    1. :) - thanks - feel free to go through the entire blog though 2016 has been a most productive year

  4. By superb presciption to analyse if one suffers from AF