The Secrets of Ambition
Our article about how the will to succeed is affected by genes, gender, privilege and persistence sparked a lively debate between readers who appreciated the broad diversity of the people we profiled and readers who rejected wealth and fame as the most important indicators of a fulfilled life
You provided a fascinating analysis of why and how some of us have that inner fire of ambition while others do not [Nov. 14]. Your article might drive some readers to ask, Am I or can I be successful in my career? Sometimes we need a push to leave what we are doing and find something that we can be more successful at. A focus on individual ambition and financial success, however, is not healthy. If we ignore civility and empathy, we only exacerbate the problem of social decay. Our role models should be those whose ambition and success bring about betterment for the whole of society, not just themselves.
ROBERT PITTS JR. San Ramon, Calif.
The premise that ambition is the "need to grab an ever bigger piece of the resource pie before someone else gets it" confuses ambition with greed and cutthroat competitiveness. Nature may be a zero-sum game, but civilization is not. Ambitious people don't just grab a bigger piece of the pie; they make the pie bigger, so there's more to go around. Ambitious people brought us the printing press, the personal computer, medical advances and agricultural efficiencies undreamed of 100 years ago.
MARY JACOBS Dallas
Sometimes what we call ambition is simply talent so great it cannot contain itself. Mozart, Einstein and Bill Gates come to mind. But in other cases ambition is just greed. Many of the famous folk in your story fit the latter category.
KEN TAUB St. James, N.Y.
Your article was full of scientists' research and perspectives, but your list of successful people didn't include any scientists. They are equally ambitious, and they work long, hard hours because they are in a highly competitive field. They too are passionate about what they do. Any feature on excellence and success should highlight our scientists, architects and engineers.
TIMOTHY C. MARZULLO Ann Arbor, Mich.
TIME revealingly separated the myths from the facts. Your report showed that ambitious people are limited not by birthplace or skin color but only by the size of their dreams. Your examples of success came from different backgrounds and races. Mediocrity may not be excusable after all.
CHIJINDU NWORGU Baltimore, Md.
Your cover line on "What separates life's go-getters from its also-rans" was insulting to most of humanity. Look at any troubled company or organization, and you'll find an excess of bumbling go-getters who only make it harder for the selfless also-rans who really keep things going. Remember the people who quietly encouraged and aided your growth (teachers, relatives), and ask yourself which camp each resides in.
ERNIE HENNINGER Harrodsburg, Ky.
Staying power is important, but success has many more elements than ambition. Talent, vision and just plain luck play a role too. Perhaps the greatest ambition a person can have is to be a complete human being. That's what I will teach my children.
TODD R. LOCKWOOD South Burlington, Vt.