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How Much is Enough?

September 22, 2022
Written by Dougal Cameron


The silent plodding of human ambition is a constant. Some call it greed or avarice. Some hail it as the wind in the sails of capitalism.

But whether it is moral or not is independent of its danger. It blinds us to what matters. Its amnesia-like influence hides the question: how much is enough?

Go on a walk through a nearby wood and you won’t see a similar influence at play amongst the animals. The robin doesn’t decide food is all powerful and horde until progeny and health are in tatters. The deer doesn’t forage until it dies of exhaustion. And yet, mankind does.

The graveyard of human failures is filled with men and women who succeeded, but only in a very narrow area. In some cases, that is financial or power. In others, it is the pursuit of satisfactions on a carnal level. In all cases though, and, admittedly, by definition, these poor souls failed at succeeding in what mattered.

Why are we so blinded by ambition? What compels us to drive forward and not stop to ask where are we pointed, and do we want to point in that direction? The beasts of the field don’t have that problem.

One of the problems with ambition is that it can hijack the human focus system

This seems to happen in a few different themes:

First is by comparison, the potent fuel to the fires of ambition. A person’s contentment with their position can be hampered not by a material change in their position but by a relative change. The ascension of friends, colleagues, or neighbors can all cause dissatisfaction with present state and compel ambition.

Another frequent misfire is tying ambition to satisfaction. This has the tendency to drive a nearness heuristic to human ambition. We optimize for the short run because we are optimizing for satisfaction.

Entrepreneurs engage a marathon-like journey to bring life to their company and hue out of the rough-cut something of value. This journey is filled with celebrations of the successes of others, fueling comparison. In addition, the journey is filled with emergencies and short-term satisfactions.

These mixed with comparison present a toxic tonic guaranteed to stoke the fires of ambition. And, if left unchecked, will ensure the entrepreneur will end his or her journey with collateral damage; particularly in the long-term payoff areas such as health, relationships, family, and legacy.

The antidote to this arsenic is to put limits on ambition

Ask the question:

how much is enough?

How much fame is enough?

How much money is enough?

How much success or recognition is enough?

Honest journeyers will discover it is far less than they have the potential to achieve. And this realization can unlock thousands of hours to be better spent on long term high value items that ultimately result in real satisfaction, in true success.

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