The Cost of Ambition

As humans, our overall goal is to feel a sense of achievement. For some, this feeling can range anywhere from wealth, fame, popularity, to overall success in general. Ambition is typically thought of to be a positive attribute to an individual and is mostly associated with determination, which is highly desirable in the world today. However, what is often left forgotten is the actions that were taken in order to get to what was sought out for. So we must ask ourselves, what is the true cost of ambition? 

Ambition is characterized by the motivation and drive that an individual has when working towards a certain goal, but this motivation also has the power to drive their actions in a harmful way. An example of how this can be detrimental can be examined through the form of excessive ambition. Excessive ambition occurs when a person is too fixated on the end goal and is willing to do anything to achieve it. The drive that evolves through this obsession can potentially “create weakened relationships between self and those around the self”(Lanier). This overall feeling of isolation can described by Kellie Holly as “an overwhelming ocean of fear” which explains why isolation for long periods of time can cause the overall languish of mental health (Holly). While obsessing over our ambitions, we often lose sight of ourselves and our overall state of mind.

This concept of ambition and more importantly, excessive ambition, can be seen in many present-day situations along with past ones as well. In the play The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark by William Shakespeare, there are many ways in which the characters portray this notion. One of these characters is Hamlet. In Act II, Scene II, Hamlet tells Rosencrantz that “Denmark was a prison” and Rosencrantz replies with “your ambition makes it one”(99). At this moment, it is clear that Denmark seems to be too small for Hamlet's large and curious mind. His ambition towards the places he wants to be makes Denmark seem like a small town which is trapping him there. And in the end, his overall ambition helped construct his obsessive behavior to expose the new king. However, throughout the play, it becomes transparent that Hamlet’s ambition resulted in more harm to him than the king through the form of weakening all of his close relationships. 

Hamlet isn’t the only character in the play that can be considered quite ambitious ,however. The new king, Claudius, also is motivated by his ambition. As the play unravels, we are given insight on how his ambitions to gain power drove his actions. This led him to kill his brother, marry Queen Gertrude, and do everything it took to keep his new title as king. His own ambition is recognized by Claudius himself, when he was attempting to pray. However, he quickly realizes that his prayer is not going to work because “Of those effects for which I did the murder: My crown, mine own ambition, and my queen. May one be pardoned and retain the' offense?” (165). He acknowledges that he cannot be forgiven because he is not willing to give up all that he has gained from killing his brother. And although Claudius did not become as obsessive as Hamlet towards his goals, they both were overall harmed by them. 

Although ambition seems to be represented in this fictional piece, it still is very apparent in today’s world. In 2005, Denis Rader was turned in by his daughter after ten different murders began popping up all over the map. The search for the mysterious serial killer BTK had been ongoing for 30 years before anyone was ever considered responsible for the crime. However, Kerri Rawson’s ambition caused her to spend those thirty years trying to prove her father guilty. And just like in Hamlet, she began to become obsessed with the idea of exposing her father. Her mental health began to decline due to her behavior, and her relationships slowly began to deteriorate. In the end, her father was found to be guilty and the murders quickly stopped. Although Kerri potentially saved other people from becoming the victim, her ambition essentially cost her most of her close relationships and her mental state as a whole (McPadden). 

Both in present society and a fictional story set in the past, ambition can be represented. This concept is seemingly apparent in almost everyone at certain times in their lives and is a widely accepted attribute. It has the ability to motivate us to achieve our goals and feel and overall sense of achievement. However, when looking at the cost that is sometimes attached to ambition, we need to ask ourselves if it is going to be worth it.