Ambition is one of the best assets an entrepreneur can possess. The motivation and drive to achieve one's dreams are what the true spirit of entrepreneurship is all about, however, most people fail to realize that their ambition has a shadow.

The shadow of ambition is unhappiness. When people are so focused on their future goals and aspirations that they prevent themselves from being fully present, they create a negative inner climate that inevitably impacts all aspects of their lives, including workplace performance.

Working towards something in the future prevents appreciating the gifts that are already present in one's life. The reason many successful people find themselves achieving their dreams and feeling a sense of emptiness is because they haven't learned how to be grateful for their current experience.

All of the money and success in the world mean nothing if you feel empty inside. If what you have is never enough to bring you a sense of fulfillment, then you will continue down a lonely, shallow road. Measuring success by counting dollars in the bank or material possessions alone exclude more enriching life experiences, such as meaningful relationships, which are consistently rated as most important at the end of life

The top entrepreneurs, the ones who achieve their dreams, often make one critical error on the road to success. 

The Biggest Mistake

The biggest mistake that highly successful make is attaching themselves to an idealized image rather than staying grounded in their true selves.

As a young child, idealizing your strengths is adaptive. It helps you build self-esteem and fill in emotional gaps that your environment fails to provide. Unfortunately, once you become overly attached to your idealized image, you start holding yourself accountable to unrealistic standards and expectations.

Karen Horney, a prominent American psychoanalyst, discussed this topic in her book Neurosis and Human Growth: The Struggle Toward Self-Realization. She described how the inner critic ruthlessly attacks the individual in attempt to hold them to the highest standards possible--that of the idealized self.

Horney noted that this inner critic often voices what one should do, feel, know, as well as the taboos on how or what they should not experience. She called these expectations the shoulds. Because the shoulds originate in the idealized, rather than the actual or true self, they are unrealistic, overly demanding, and too rigid to be achieved.

The shoulds often have a disregard for the conditions or contexts within which they take place. Instead of taking the environment or unique situations of an individual's life into account, the shoulds are unforgiving and lack a healthy adaptive quality. Just as they disregard context, they also neglect psychic conditions.

These should-thoughts ignore the individual's present abilities and care only for the idealized self's absolute perfection. Therefore, when individuals experience shortcomings, the inner critic relentlessly torments and punishes the individual for not attaining the idealized standards.

Horney argued that the purpose of the shoulds is to maintain the idealized image at all costs, by eliminating the perception of imperfections and giving the impression of perfect attainment. This negative self dialog has a coercive character that punish the individual when one fails to meet their unrealistic standards.

Most people lack full awareness of the impact or nature of the shoulds, which Horney believed is the inner tyranny that causes depression and anxiety. This inner tyranny is often the shadow of success.

The Process

In building a perfect company or a spotless appearance, many successful individuals rely on their ambition and ruthless self-criticism to manifest their dreams. However, such perfection comes at a cost.

When you lack awareness that the very voice that drives you towards achieving success is also detrimental to your emotional wellbeing, you remain unbalanced and unhappy, leading to possessiveness, alcohol and drug use, and other maladaptive coping methods.

Avoid the mistake of attaching to your idealized self so that you can achieve success and experience a deep sense of fulfillment. Challenge your unrelenting inner critic, acknowledge your flaws, appreciate what you have, and empower your true self. The more that you expand your definition of success to include non-material items, the more you can achieve a well-rounded sense of love and appreciation for all that you have and all that you are.